Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Without ambition, one starts nothing. Without work one finishes nothing. The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.” Most doctors embark on their professional journey with a burning ambition to serve and make a difference in the world. And undoubtedly, they work hard and make sacrifices in order to help save lives. Determination and passion are the key pillars that keep them going during the course of such demanding work.

However, an alarming number of doctors in Malaysia give up their medical careers soon after undergoing the strain and rigour of medical school. The numbers have increased exponentially over the years, and warrants attention to identify the reasons for this trend.

1. Lack of Passion

Unfortunately, a large number of students join medical school due to pressure from their parents’ end. Surviving a medical career becomes so much more harder when students force themselves to endure the intensive five-year course. By the end of it, these students are simply too exhausted and cynical about their experience, and end up switching tracks mid-way.

2. Lack of Postgraduate Opportunities

There is a much higher demand amongst medical graduates to pursue postgraduate training for the limited spaces available. The lack of postgraduate opportunities can be really frustrating for fresh, young doctors. Getting into a good residency, or postgraduate programme is important, and when fresh medical graduates are not able to do so, it might end up pushing them to look into alternative career paths.

3. Financial Remuneration

Society might expect doctors to be earning exorbitant incomes; but while this might be true in the long-term, the beginning stage of a doctor’s career is not financially attractive, and this can be trying on young doctors who might not have anticipated the severely unbalanced levels of stress that comes with the job. Furthermore, in order to pursue postgraduate training in reputable schools in the US, UK and Australia, doctors need to have substantial financial resources. Such training does not come cheap, and this puts students from relatively underprivileged backgrounds at a disadvantage.

4. Unrealistic Expectations

So, we might know of certain people who joined medical school, thinking it would be similar to all the medical dramas screened on TV. Those rose-tinted glasses come off sooner than expected, and before they know it, they find themselves stuck in a course that falls below their expectations. A doctor’s life in reality is not as glamorous as how it’s depicted in TV shows. The first few years are the worst, when doctors have to adjust to the rigour of their job. Rushing to operating theatres, dealing with emergencies, tiring long shifts, skipping meals, experiencing losing patients… the list goes on. Needless to say, all of this takes an emotional toll on doctors, and they may not be prepared for it, resulting in them dropping out halfway.

5. Long Working Hours

Most departments in hospitals require doctors to work for 36 to 40 hours straight every fourth day or so. This requires great presence of mind, and good physical health. Long, tiring work hours is one of the biggest reasons why people withdraw from the profession. They may find difficulties coping with it, which makes it all the more important and necessary to prep students before-hand.

6. Prevailing Hopelessness

Medicine is probably one of the most competitive professions. There will be countless of times when you hit low points, and be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness; getting into medical school, licensing exam fevers, and securing your residency are just some examples of stress points for young doctors. Upon graduation, a doctor needs around seven to eight years in order to create his/her own identity and mark within the field. And this is no easy feat. It doesn’t help that stories of struggles by seniors seem to be more prominently circulating amidst young doctors as well. The continuous struggle may end up putting off people, resulting in them leaving.

7. Lack of career counselling platforms

Unfortunately, there is a lack of career counselling in Malaysia, despite the necessity for it. This may be part of the reason why doctors – while in their undergraduate years – do not have a clear idea of their options after graduation. They thus end up entering the working world with very vague ideas about the realities of life as a doctor, and the culture shock might end up preventing them from acclimatising to the ups and downs of the profession. MIMS

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