Every year we hear of students fiercely competing for places in medical schools to become doctors.
The profession has traditionally been a popular ambition but, yet today, due to competition, limited number of places and cost, it is a pipe dream for many.
While doctors, nurses and pharmacists are often regarded as frontliners of the healthcare industry, there are other jobs available for those keen on joining their ranks but are unable to do so due to lack of qualification or placement constraints.
Ample opportunities abound for students who wish to be part of the healthcare service and engage with patients. These include professions such as medical assistants and in areas like physiotherapy, medical imaging and medical laboratory technology. With an ageing population, shifts in life expectancy and lifestyle diseases, demand for healthcare services both in the country and at the international level is on the rise.
Furthermore, hospitals have to meet safety and quality standards set by the Ministry of Health Malaysia. For those who do not make the grade for a medical degree programme, there is still a way to join the medical field through health sciences programmes.
These courses provide a platform for careers which support the running of a medical facility such as a hospital and treatment of patients.
Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare College chief executive officer and dean Eliza Wong Pak Fong said health sciences-related jobs include physiotherapists, medical lab technologists and medical assistants.
She added that though they may be perceived as least favourable by school-leavers, these jobs have great career potential.
“For example, the related health sciences diploma programmes are focused to equip graduates with the skills to do their jobs and enable them to advance in their careers or even further their studies later.”
KPJ Healthcare University College School of Health Sciences dean Mohd Izham Mohd Zain said the extended role of jobs in the health sciences sector requires higher academic qualification to cater to needs and fulfil expectations of the job.
“To meet healthcare demand, numerous higher education institutions offer bachelor’s programmes instead of diploma courses,” he added.
At the diploma level, there are numerous courses that can enable students to obtain the basic qualification to gain entry into the medical field.
Courses at Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare College include Diploma in Healthcare Service, Diploma in Medical Assistant, Diploma in Medical Laboratory Technology and Diploma in Physiotherapy.
“Hospitals today are not like those of yesteryears—particularly in the private sector. When we walk into any hospital, it’s like walking into a hotel environment.
Healthcare services diploma students are trained to look into the management aspect of the hospital, from being the front office employee who welcomes and assists patients to performing administrative work,” said Wong.
Medical lab technology students are trained to examine specimens from patients such as blood, urine and tissue, and provide reports that help doctors decide on diagnosis and patient treatment.
Students studying physiotherapy learn to treat conditions such as sprains, back pain, arthritis, strains, posture problems, sport and workplace injuries, plus reduced mobility holistically while minimising risks, ensuring patient safety at all times, and work within a legal and ethical framework.
“Contrary to popular perception, medical assistants are not male nurses but work closely with medical officers to assist in the clinical units at a hospital or any healthcare setting. They focus on treatment and have the privilege of prescribing a certain level of drugs.
“In the Diploma in Medical Assistant programme, students are trained in the areas of basic medical sciences and professional modules such as medicine, emergency medicine, surgery and public health.
Upon graduation, the medical assistant is able to work in emergency rooms, health clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centres, and in the industrial occupational safety sector,” she added At KPJ University College, there are also the diploma and degree in medical imaging courses where students learn the techniques of visualisation of body parts, tissues and organs for use in clinical diagnosis, treatment and disease monitoring through the use of x-ray, MRI and ultrasound, for example.
“Prospects for graduates are very promising. The rapid development of health technology offers good potential to those in this field,” said Mohd Izham.
Before choosing any programmes in the healthcare sciences, Wong added it is best that students reflect on themselves and make the choice that is close to their hearts.
In any programme there are three pathways: service, academic and research.
“Students can move into any pathway depending on their interest. In the service pathway, they can progress from being a physiotherapist, for example, to senior physiotherapist and then head of department.
“In the academic pathway, after some years of experience and they want to share their knowledge with the younger generation, they can become academicians—pursue master’s or doctoral studies and even become a professor.
“The research pathway is for those who like inventions or discovery.”
Diploma holders can go on to degree programmes and are in general eligible for a certain number of credit exemptions.
For those who do not qualify for healthcare diploma programmes, Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare College through Yayasan Sime Darby offers a six-month training programme after which they will undergo a year’s practical as a customer service personnel at hospitals.
“After 1 1/2 years, if they perform, show good attitude and gain the necessary Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia credits, they will be considered foraplace in a diploma programme,” said Wong.
Another programme for non-qualifiers who have no interest in studies is the three month patient assistant course.
“We teach them the basic skills to take care of patients — mobile or immobile. They can work at nursing homes or hospitals.”