Doctors hang up their coats

The day Min Khite Soe San hung up his doctor’s coat for the last time was one of the happiest of his life.

Like many other young people in Myanmar, Min Khite Soe San – who is now a well-known writer – studied medicine because of pressure from his family, who taught him from a young age that becoming a doctor promised both respect and a good income. But medicine was never his passion.

“Every day, I woke up in the morning and the thought of going to the hospital made me unhappy,” he said. ‘I was not a good doctor – a good doctor treats patients even in his dreams. I was always thinking about ideas for my stories rather than treating patients.”

Min Khite Soe San’s father passed away when he was child, and as an only child, his family had high hopes up for him.

“Since I was in kindergarten, my mother and my aunts and uncles had high hopes for me to become a doctor,” said Min Khite Soe San. “They were always telling me I should win first in the class so I could go to medical school. My decision [to study medicine] was influenced by my family.”

He grew up during the 1980s, when Socialist power was still strong in Myanmar, and when well-paid jobs, outside of government departments, were few and far between.

“Back then, a career as a sailor or a doctor in the government could provide secure income. Doctors could live a comfortable life,” he said.

When he finished school, Min Khite Soe San was accepted into the prestigious University of Medicine – no small accomplishment, as students had to achieve a mark of 80 or above in all of their matriculation exams even to be considered. After graduating, he served as a house surgeon in a Yangon hospital. But it wasn’t long before he started to feel unhappy.

“I thought treating patients is noble work but I didn’t want to pass everyday with unhappiness. I wanted to enjoy life. So I decided to quit,” he said.

He decided to pursue his passion for writing, but he struggled to earn a living.

“Writing didn’t earn a fortune at that time and writers were poor. I struggled to get my short stories published in a few monthly magazines, which earned me K600 a story. But I was happy to be doing something creative. I woke up every day with new ideas for my stories,” he said.

Min Khite Soe San is now a prolific author of non-fiction and post-modern literature, and also directs films. His best-known works are Thone Nya (Zero) and Min Thar Gyi (Actor), which enjoyed immense success and launched his career as an author. He stopped practicing medicine in 2000, and has never returned.

Medical students must complete six-and-a-half years of study and serve as a house surgeon in a hospital for a further year before they receive a license to practise (Sa Ma). If a doctor holds Sa Ma they can work in any private clinic or open their own clinic.

To work in a government hospital, licensed doctors must take a Public Service Commission (PSC) conducted by the Public Services and Selected Training Board. The PSC exam, which is a general knowledge test, is not held regularly – sometimes doctors wait more than a year before they can take it – and the test questions are unrelated to health and medicine. In one example, respondents are asked how many bridges Myanmar has. Many trained doctors fail the exam and are unable to work in government hospitals.

But even if they pass the exam, many doctors are placed in hospitals far from their hometowns. According to ex-doctor Daw Mie Mie Ko, this has lead to an increasing number of qualified doctors taking on non-medical professions instead.

“We all want to devote ourselves to the medical profession – nobody wants to become a merchant or a businessman. But when they fail the exam several times, they give up and do something else,” she said. “One of my friends who trained to become a doctor became a timber trader, and another took over his family’s jewellery business.”

Well-known writer and journalist Daw Mie Mie Ko graduated from the University of Medicine at the age of 23. She took up a posting at a hospital in Shan State and opened her own clinic at the same time. She later quit her government job to become a writer.

“I had very little opportunity to continue my medical education, even though I sat exams, so I quit,” said Daw Mie Mie Ko, who contributes articles on medicine to Ziwaka and Sarana health magazines and other health journals and has been chief health editor of Ziwaka for 18 years. Though she no longer practises as a doctor, she volunteers as a trainer for young doctors.

She said there are more than 30,000 doctors who hold Sa Ma but are unable to work in government hospitals.

“After they’ve put so many years into studying, many doctors feel that their education has been wasted,” she said. “Many of them go to work abroad instead.”

Dr Htet Linn Aung graduated from the University of Medicine in 2013. He wants to work in public health, but a postgraduate course in public health costs US$9900 (K12 million) and he can’t afford it.

“The number of doctors who are not practising doctors has increased. Many of them studied at University of Medicine because of pressure from their parents and they then don’t pursue medical professions,” he said.

“Some want to continue practising but they can’t [get jobs in government hospitals] so they choose to work in pharmacy companies where they earn K1 million a month. They need to support their families so they give up their passion for treating patients because they can’t earn enough.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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