Malaysia’s International Medical University (IMU) will start integrating the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) preparation courses as part of its medical programme curriculum starting this year.
Launched last week, the course to prep IMU students for the USMLE – a set of qualifying examinations for medical graduates to practise in the US – aims to “elevate standards” of medical education in Malaysia and to prepare graduates for overseas studies and opportunities.
“This will benchmark the Malaysian medical education to American standards,” IMU School of Medicine dean Prof Dr Kew Siang Tong wrote in an email to Study International News.
“The course is designed for the student to be critical and quick thinkers, with the ability to apply their knowledge in various situations. Thus, it will also boost their confidence in being better doctors.”
There are three steps in the examination process – Step 1: Preparation; Step 2: Clinical Knowledge and Clinical Skills; and Step 3: Licensing – which will assess their ability to apply knowledge, concepts and principles as well as patient skill. The online examination requires the candidate to answer over 300 question over the span of eight hours.
Students who pass Step 1 and Step 2 will then be eligible for the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certification and qualify for licensure.
The course, for which the medical school is partnering with educational resource company Becker Professional Education – will be the first of its kind in Malaysia to offer structured guidance for the USMLE.
While IMU touts the course’s ability to raise the standards of medical education, the move has caused some to raise alarm over how it will possibly facilitate the funnel of Malaysian talent overseas, and thus, worsening the country’s brain drain problem.
More than 300,000 Malaysians have left the country in the last decade, according to estimates by Johan Mahmood Merican, head of Talentcorp, a government agency established in 2011 to attract and retain talent n the country. Talent outflow is costly for the Southeast Asian country, which is struggling to escape the middle-income trap and needs a bigger proportion of skilled workers to do so.
In a statement, IMU said it was “unfazed” by these claims, adding it had “no control” over the number of doctors leaving the country as well as emphasising that the USMLE integration is aimed at ensuring the quality of its graduates meet international standards.
IMU ex-student Nicholas Kong agrees. “A good number of high flyers will (take the exam) independent of the IMU system anyway,” he said.
Furthermore, passing the exam does not automatically land the candidate a spot in a residency programme in US hospitals, Kong says, which is very competitive even for local graduates there – while there will be brain drain naturally, it would not be to an extent where it will open the “flood gates” and cause an exodus of local medical graduates to the US.