Medical scholarship — an initiative of Abang Johari

Unimas Medical Programme Special Scholarship Award presentation ceremony session, 2018-2019.

Since 2017, the state government has funded the education of 40 students studying medicine at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) through the Sarawak Foundation.

To increase the number of doctors in Sarawak, the state government is offering a special medical scholarship to students.

This is one of the earliest initiatives introduced by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg when he took helm of the state government and the chairmanship of Sarawak Foundation.

Mersal Abang Rosli

To address the state’s urgent lack of medical doctors, the Cabinet Committee for Key Result Area (KRA) Initiatives 2017 established a special programme to train qualified Sarawak students in the medical faculty at Unimas.

In addition to the federal government’s regular intake of medical students, the committee decided to establish a special programme to create more medical graduates. In other words, the state government will fund a scholarship programme in this area. 

In 2010, the doctor-to-population ratio in Sarawak was 1:2000, according to statistics from the State Medical Department.

By 2015, the ratio had dropped to 1:1104, and by 2020, it had dropped further to 1:1086.

In 2019, the federal government set a goal of one doctor per 400 people. This is insufficient for Sarawak, which is the largest state and has the greatest need for medical care in the rural areas.

Because of the high ratio, the state government decided to offer scholarships to qualifying students, in keeping with the government’s focus on human capacity development.

As previously stated, Sarawak, in particular, is experiencing a significant shortage of doctors. Those who are sent to Sarawak on a non-permanent basis are more likely to return home after a short stay, and the majority of them end up in the urban hospitals.

Sarawak’s doctor population is still lower than the World Health Organisation average, even when non-Sarawakians are included.

The state government agreed to appoint the Sarawak Foundation to carry out the ‘State Medical Intervention’ under KRA 4: ‘Quality of Education and Human Capital,’ which will see 40 students trained annually for a five-year period.

Only 70 percent of the state’s 3,282 practising doctors were Sarawakians in 2017, according to the report. With a population of three million people predicted by 2020, Sarawak needed 7,282 doctors to keep up with the national average.

On September 18, 2017, the first cohort of scholarship recipients were honoured at a special presentation event held at Wisma Bapa Malaysia in Petra Jaya.

Abang Johari himself officiated at the event. It was a historic occasion as the state government was giving out 40 scholarships at one go.

The 40 scholarships were worth RM4 million per year, according to the chief minister, and the state government would continue to award the same number of scholarships to eligible Sarawakian students who choose to pursue medical courses at Unimas.

The first cohort of 40 students who received the scholarship in 2017 will complete their studies in 2021, and by 2027, after five cohorts, the programme will have produced 200 medical doctors to serve in Sarawak.

A virtual interview in progress for the Medical Programme Special Scholarship.

Students who receive this scholarship are bonded to work in Sarawak for a minimum of 10 years after graduation.

The state government is emphasising medical studies with the hope of producing a large number of specialists in various fields of medicine.

Apart from that, the state government is constantly upgrading other services as part of its effort to provide high-quality services to the people by offering new courses to students who may contribute to the state’s transformation plan.

With the government’s increased focus on the digital economy, even doctors are turning to new tools like analytical data to identify illnesses and diseases.

All the doctors can do currently is retrieve information from the primary database, diagnose the person’s illness or disease, and determine the best course of action for solving the medical problem.

The Sarawak Foundation has offered education aid to thousands of Sarawakians since 1971, whether in the form of scholarships or education loans.

As a result, many present leaders in the public and private sectors were beneficiaries of Sarawak Foundation’s aid schemes and programmes in one way or another.

The Sarawak Foundation is also compelled to assist the state in reducing the doctor-to-population ratio, and is thus responsible for ensuring that the production of doctors runs smoothly by providing financial assistance to medical students.

Some of the students with their Unimas Medical Programme Special Scholarship.
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