We previously spoke to Vikkineshwaran Siva Subramaniam, the chairperson of the student-led Malaysian Medics International (MMI) to find out more about the challenges facing our medical students as they seek to join the growing community of healthcare professionals. Here he shares more about the key issues that MMI seeks to address in improving the outlook for local medical graduates and also divulges his secrets to staying motivated as a young medical student.

Can you tell us about the background of the medical student community in Malaysia and what led you to create MMI?

There are 133 medical schools recognised by the Ministry of Higher Education and 31 medical schools in Malaysia. Thus, every year we produce about 6,000 medical graduates and the aim of MMI was to connect these students together.

It was started in 2013 by two of my friends who were studying medicine in the UK. They came up with the ideas as they wanted to connect all the students studying in the UK at time, of which there are about 800. The idea was to keep them informed of what was happening back home, as they would eventually return to Malaysia to practice upon graduation. Thus, we then moved to launch MMI over here.

MMI is registered under the ROS and we work very closely with the Ministry of Health (MoH). Our senior adviser is Datuk Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry.

Our three main goals are to connect, to educate and to cultivate.

How does MMI go about in achieving these goals?

Firstly, we aim to connect all Malaysian medical students, such as through the Malaysian Medical Students Summit (MMSS), that we held recently in Kuala Lumpur with the theme Future of Malaysian Medicine. It turned out to be the country’s largest annual international summit for medical undergraduates with 76 medical schools from around the world represented, while medical students from five countries were involved in the planning.

We feel this kind of event is crucial because although it is a very large community of over 6,000 students, most of them do not know what is happening in any medical schools other than their own. Yet the reality is that we are all in the same boat, as we are all going to be doctors and future colleagues so it is very important for us to build this platform to connect and network.

Through our growing network, we are also able to bring in practicing specialists and representatives from the Ministry of Health to educate the students on what is really happening on the ground that affects the public. There are often conflicting reports from the media about particular medical issues or health concerns, so it is important for our students to get accurate information directly from the Ministry.

This also helps them to become aware of which areas of specialisation currently require more doctors. In this way, we hope to alleviate the current issue of backlog of medical officers and housemen while there is an insufficiency of specialists in the country.

There are other outreach programs we run such as volunteer programs in which students can be linked up with various NGOs that can utilise their skills while also fostering greater motivation for the students before they go out into the world of practice.

We also have an advocacy program which aims to create a voice for all medical students and allow them to raise any problems with the specific authorities such as the Malaysian Medical Council, for instance and find solutions. Another main area that we are focused on is to connect students who are overseas such as in Russia or Indonesia – there are 17 countries in which Malaysian students are pursuing medical degrees.

We are purely student-run and we have received a lot of support from both the private sector and the public at large. Many doctors are very supportive of our summit and other projects; in fact there were 57 specialists and heads of hospital departments who attended the summit. I think this is a sign of how we are all aware of the current problems within the country [for this profession] and we want to come together to address these issues.

Can you tell us a bit more about your personal passion for medicine?

I am interested to become a surgical oncologist and this passion grew out of my involvement in an NGO when I was a secondary school, which is the Childhood Cancer Caring Society of Kuala Lumpur based at University Malaya Medical Centre.

I have been going there every Wednesday for about nine years now to hang out and play games with the children. Our aim is simply to help them to forget about their cancer for at least a brief time and be happily engaged like any other child. I’m currently the vice-president for this group and my experiences with the kids have inspired me to enter the field of oncology because Malaysia is still lacking specialists in this area in general and we do not yet have a local surgical oncologist. Moreover, the field is still in its infancy both here and in neighbouring countries so there is a lot of need for more oncologists as our population ages.

How do you manage your time between your final year of studies, leading MMI and your volunteer work as well? Perhaps you have some pointers for other students who may find it hard to juggle all their responsibilities.

It is hard, but I look at it as a good thing for me to start learning how to balance my time at this age because upon graduation and becoming a full-time doctor, it is only going to become even more hectic. You are expected to do a lot and the working hours are not really fixed. So I took it as a challenge for myself to learn to juggle these various roles from a younger age, in the hopes that I will be used to this hectic pace by the time I am practicing full-time. While this does involve some sacrifices in my personal life, (laughs) but I do believe it is a good practice to embody early on.

I also think being able to juggle so many things at once is something that depends on each individual’s personality. But in my case, I am lucky to have the support of my family and they encourage me to keep going in my various endeavours. Upon graduation, I will be stepping down as MMI chairperson and will start my Perdana Fellowship with the MoH.

In terms of juggling work-life balance and maintaining good mental health and motivation, MMI has brought in doctors to talk about these topics with the students. However, at the end of the day it is an individual thing as different people do react to and handle such challenges in their own ways.

We do notice that most doctors tend to be high-achievers who really seek to maximise their potential and utilise most of their time towards building their related skills. For instance, do you feel that your work for the NGO has helped to keep you motivated over the years?

Very much so, it really does keep me going because I can see the children who are suffering on a daily basis. It really reminds me why I want to develop myself to be able to help such children. I think this sense of connection is so important so that we do not risk getting jaded as doctors. MIMS

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