It was September 2011. 24 students who aspired to become the movers and changers of the healthcare sector were excited to enrol for one of the most interesting medical degree courses in the country.
MH Kamal (not his real name) was one of the 23 Malaysian students (the other being an international student from the Middle East) who took the bold step to be part of a new four-year graduate entry medical program that was offered by a local university that partnered with a renowned American institution.
This programme followed the US-style medical education system, which was newly introduced to Malaysia at that time.
"The school was formed in collaboration with one of the most prestigious names in the world of medical education, that is famous for its tripartite approach emphasising on medical education, research and clinical care."
"From this collaboration, the students were thought from day one, that they, a pioneering cohort of 24 students from different age and various background will be the one to transform the landscape of healthcare and medical education in this country," he said.
Everything seemed promising until the exclusive deal between the local university and the American institution was suddenly terminated
"Everything was smooth sailing up until mid-2014, when were well into our third year of medical school, with just a little bit over a year left from scheduled graduation."
"Every student from the first until the third year received a damning email out of the blue from a well-positioned eminent figure from the collaborative partner essentially notifying us that the collaboration will be terminated at the end of the current academic year," MH Kamal recalled.
"This unexpected turn of event was devastating for us. A killer blow. A knockout. TKO. Suddenly, the mood has changed."
While the partnership turned sour, it was the students that were helplessly caught in between this complicated affair
"We were told that the ending of the collaboration will not affect our academic stuff since the matter is well beyond our control and they’ll make sure the transition will be as smooth as possible, but we all know that it was all sweet talking and mere comforting words," MH Kamal said.
"It will never be the same again. It will never be smooth as it was before. The road ahead seems gloomy for us, even with multiple reassurances by the faculties. We know that we are treading on a thin line."
"That our future is at stake, and we are helpless in overcoming this definite consequence. We are the primary casualty from this move, but we have no say whatsoever in this whole issue."
"Nothing we can do to overcome this. The period of uncertainty slowly eating us from the inside. We can smell that things will get worse from the day onwards."
The waves of uncertainty kept coming and soon, the reality was sinking in. What was first thought to be the "beginning of a new era" became a stumbling block for aspiring medical students.
"True enough, in the next visit by the Malaysian accreditation body several months later after multiple delays, the school failed to obtained recognition thus sending us students into the abyss. One problem after another. Like an unstoppable chain reaction."
"The school tried to make some adjustment, but none was fruitful. I would like to thank them for the effort, albeit unsuccessful one. By now, we know we will not graduate on time, and ultimately, will not start working anytime soon," MH Kamal said.
That was only the tip of the iceberg as the students had to face a series of challenges as a result of the terminated deal
"Without accreditation, we are required to sit for the Medical Qualifying Examination (MQE) before applying for housemanship. But to sit for the exam, we must first graduate from the school and in order to graduate, we must sit for and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), and Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS)," he explained.
The circumstances surrounding the situation left them with no choice but to go through one of the most difficult and exhausting examinations in the world.
"Most of us completed the whole United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) process by the end of 2015 after our final academic year ended in May that year. The Step 2 CS results were out by February 2016."
MH Kamal and his coursemates met all the requirements and went on to take the exam set by the MQE. Against all odds, MH Kamal was one of the 11 out of the 12 who passed the exam in one try despite being told that the passing rate was just below a quarter (less than 25%).
"Another hurdle was thrown out of the way, and we can finally obtain temporary registration for housemanship. However, yet again, another problem arose."
Despite passing the examinations, MH Kamal had to endure the long wait for the Public Service Commission (PSC) to offer him a job
"We were told that because this is the pioneer batch graduating from the school, it would take some time to insert the name of the school on the PSC website and we need to wait before we can apply for it online."
"We were already one year behind our schedule since we left medical school in May 2015, and now we had to wait yet again for the registration. It was not until December 2016 (six whole months after the MQE exam) that we can finally complete our registration, just in time to be slotted in the January-February session for interviews."
"Finally, I was interviewed in January 2017 and a majority of us that had completed the elaborate process too were interviewed around the same time."
"We’ve missed the permanent appointment that was abolished recently for houseman, and now we will just be a contract doctor. Anyhow, that is still something to be grateful for comparing it to the previous two years that we were floating aimlessly. Better than nothing."
After the emotional roller coaster and the unanticipated delays, MH Kamal will finally begin his first day of work today, 22 May
The 32-year-old finally got a job offer with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and gained a coveted placement into a public hospital in the Klang Valley.
"I'm happy and relieved to have finally being employed, but at the same time is a bit sad for my friends that did not make it for this intake," he said.
However, some of his coursemates were not as fortunate as him. He revealed that only three out of 11 of them got the job in this intake, which means that the housemen-to-be were once again left disappointed and frustrated.
MH Kamal said that he is sharing his story as a reminder about all the things that he has gone through
"People said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But what they didn’t know is that all the suffering and recovering from those things that don't kill us may leave a permanent scar or impairment and changed us in one way or another whether we realised it or not."
"I hope we can all become successful doctors in the future and always remember where and how we started. When we face any difficulties in the future, which I’m sure we will, whether it’s in our hand or not, come back to this moment and remember, we have experienced a lot worse."
"We have jumped over hurdles, powered through stumbling block, and navigate through obstacles that we ourselves at one point doubt we could ever succeed."
"Same goes to my juniors who are still struggling. Stay strong. We are the pioneers of graduate entry medical education in Malaysia. The future of medical education."
"This is a bit about my journey to obtain the coveted ‘doctor’ title. This is the story of 'The (Unfortunate) Class of 2015: Once a pioneer, always a pioneer'."
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