On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Find ways to help top students become doctors

They would also be given a tour of the hospitals and
exposed to the onerous working hours and conditions of medical officers.

Dr Shafie said he had discussed the idea of an admission
test with several ministry officials recently and would call for a meeting with
medical faculty deans. The proposal for MSAT, he added, would be presented to
the Cabinet soon for a decision.

I am sure Dr Shafie's intentions are good – the idea is
to ensure that the applicants with the right character, intention and aptitude
are accepted.

Whether we like it or not, the fact is that not everyone
can become a doctor despite being a top scorer. However, Dr Shafie ought to
speak to more doctors, lecturers, students and fellow Barisan Nasional
component party leaders before going ahead with his proposal.

For a start, it is nothing new. My alma mater, Universiti
Kebangsaan Malaysia,
introduced this admission procedure decades ago but it died a natural death
after a few years.

In many foreign universities, such admission tests have
also been introduced but the practicality of such an exercise has been severely
questioned. In the case of UKM, some lecturers who sat on the interviewing
board found that it was unfair to decide on the future of the applicants in a
30-minute interview.

No matter how many questions an applicant can be asked,
the crux of the discussion was on why the applicant wished to be a doctor.

The outcome from these interviews revealed that some
popular answers were given – namely they had scored the best academic results
and their ambition was to be a doctor. Having secured the best grades in the
STPM, these applicants felt they should be given the chance of studying
medicine, or at least dentistry.

Most felt that studying medicine was prestigious and
would provide them with a good future. Certainly no one would dispute that

Parental pressure was also a factor, while helping
society was the last priority. No one should be surprised with these answers.

Do not expect our doctors to be paid poorly in the name
of helping society and upholding the Hippocratic Oath of the Greek medical
philosopher. While there may be many doctors who have dedicated their lives to
help the poor, future doctors see a bright and financially sound future ahead
of them.

Based on experience, medical college lecturers have found
that, in reality, applicants do not know for sure why they chose medicine. It
is only after their second or third year that most medical students have a
strong inkling of the course they have chosen.

Lecturers also said there was nothing to stop applicants
from preparing themselves and telling the interviewers what they want to hear
during such admission tests.

Dr Shafie said the ministry also wanted to know what kind
of lifestyle they would lead as doctors. If politicians themselves cannot be
trusted to give an honest answer from such a question, I doubt Dr Shafie could
expect an honest answer from college applicants.

The ministry and the Cabinet should carefully study the
feasibility of the proposed MSAT because it may lead to controversy.

There are already calls to review the entry system – one
for matriculation students and another for STPM students. Malaysians do not
want the MSAT to be another source of discontentment if bright students
suddenly find themselves rejected on grounds that they failed the new round of
subjective examinations, where human interference comes into play.

Our bright students are undoubtedly aware of the less
glamorous aspect of studying medicine, but they must not be discouraged from
taking up the challenge.