Is Malaysia capable of offering world-class medical training? As far as Prof Datuk Dr Zainuddin Wazir, president of the Allianze University College of Medical Sciences (AUCMS), is concerned, the answer is a resounding yes.
“We should not look at our country as one where, if we want this sort of education we must send our students abroad,” he says.
Zainuddin points to the general lack of options for school leavers, many of whom face difficulty in finding placement in local universities in spite of good academic results, due to limited space in public universities, inability to gain scholarships or the absence of a specific medical training they’re looking for. “So they have to go abroad,” he says. “Malaysia has been producing doctors and paramedics for many, many years, for more than three or four generations. There’s no reason why we cannot do this here, and on a bigger scale.”
All of this led the cardiothoracic surgeon to form the AUCMS in 2002. Based in Kepala Batas, Penang, the university college offers students a wide variety of medical education programmes, including five medical degree programmes, as well as nursing, alternative/ complementary medicine, sports sciences and bioengineering programmes, among others. The college was initially known as the Allianze College of Medical Sciences, until the Ministry of Higher Education upgraded it to a university college in February 2011.
AUCMS currently has more than 3,000 students, as well as some 400 staff. It boasts lecturers from India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Iraq, Iran and the Philippines, and will soon be adding Russians and Canadians as well.
“When we first started,” Zainuddin says, “we told our staff and ourselves that we want to be the best in the world. By 2015 we want to be one of the top medical universities in the world. Alhamdulillah, we are moving in that direction.” Zainuddin states that AUCMS is the only university or college in the world capable of conducting five medical degree programmes at the same time, all of which have been approved by the Malaysian Medical Council.
He also acknowledges the need to meet demand while still maintaining high standards. “As a doctor, I am probably more conscious about this compared to a businessman who just wants to think of money when setting up a medical school. Yes, we want to make sure that we can sustain this business, but at the same time, we have to make sure that the outcome is a high quality product.”
While most of AUCMS’s students are Malaysians, Zainuddin is aiming further afield in the long term. AUCMS currently has a small percentage of Indonesian students, thanks to a twinning programme with an Indonesian university, and he wants that number to grow over the next few years. “We are aiming for at least 10%-15% of our student population to be foreigners. By the end of 2015, we want at least 50% of our students to be foreigners. We are focusing on Indonesia, Thailand and the Middle-East.”
A key part of AUCMS’s growth is its ability to collaborate with other educational institutions from not just Malaysia, but overseas. It currently runs a twinning programme with Universitas Sumatera Utara, Indonesia, and has collaborations with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and Irish universities - National University of Ireland and University College Cork. Its UKM and Irish programmes are recognised worldwide.
“We collaborate with the players around this region,” Zainuddin says, “plus the players who identify us as a provider of good quality medical education. This is the difference that we have from the rest of the medical schools.”
Zainuddin notes that the requirements of the Malaysian authorities are very stringent, something other countries will pay attention to when evaluating graduates. “For example, our nursing programme is accepted by the Malaysian Nursing Board. This qualification is recognised worldwide, so by having that alone our graduates will be able to work in any part of the world.
A health screening programme conducted by AUCMS for the local community.
“With our infrastructure, I think we’ll be able to provide medical education for our students to the level that satisfies the requirements of the Malaysian Medical Council and the various universities we work with. And in fact, we have the most number of seats available to study medicine in Malaysia.”
In spite of the strength of its medical education programmes, Zainuddin is fully aware of how valuable real-world experience can be to graduates going out into the field. Students and lecturers are regularly sent out to villages, suraus and mosques near its Kepala Batas campus to engage local communities and promote programmes ranging from health education to prevention screenings.
“We want to produce a graduate who can work and move to the highest level they think possible,” he says. “We also want them to be able to work with the community. Students will learn how to interact with the elderly, or get their message across to the public. It’s part of their learning.”
What does Zainuddin think of the proliferation of medical schools in the country? “I think it’s healthy. As long as the government controls the number of teachers, I think it’s good. But producing more doctors will not harm the country, because some of them want to be specialists.” There aren’t enough specialists, he says, to cater to demand in Malaysia.
AUCMS is establishing two hospitals in Kepala Batas. One with 200 beds is targeted for completion by the end of 2013, and another with 800 beds begins construction in 2013 and is due for completion in 2015. It currently has branches in Kangar and Kulim, and plans to open more in other parts of the country this year, with the eventual aim of establishing at least one branch campus in every state. AUCMS is also exploring opportunities in Cambodia and southern Thailand. “Some of our programmes, I think, have matured enough,” Zainuddin says, “for us to duplicate them for export to other countries.”
If one couples this with the university college’s plans to bring in more international students, it seems that AUCMS is inching closer towards achieving its ambitious goals. “You know, 2015 is not too far away, but I think we can see what we need to do to achieve our targets. Malaysia’s medical services are already better than in many, many other countries. At all times, we are improving ourselves.”