McCormack Medal-winning surgeon cares more about life than money

GEORGE TOWN: A cardiothoracic (heart and lung) surgeon can earn RM100,000 a month in private practice, so why would one remain in public service and earn much lower in government hospitals?

The winner of this year’s presti­gious McCormack Medal hardly paused before answering that.

“In public service, I can do everything I want to save a patient without thinking about the patient’s financial pressures. I can choose the best medical procedures without caring about how much it will cost my patients.

“I get to handle major and complex cases without worrying about money.

“In public service, I can really do my best as a surgeon,” said Datuk Dr Basheer Ahamed Abdul Kareem.

The McCormack Medal is given annually to the cardiothoracic surgeon with the highest score in the surgeon’s examination of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.

Out of hundreds of surgeons globally who sat for the examination, Dr Basheer scored the highest in his batch and collected his medal early this month.

He said the medal was conferred by the Intercollegiate Specialty Examination in the Cardiothoracic Surgery Board and he was told that he was the first non-Englishman to earn it.

“After I collected my medal, I was offered a surgeon’s post in London,” he said, adding that the paycheque is expected to be more than £20,000 (RM109,000).

Dr Basheer said in Penang, he was offered posts in private hospitals with salaries also exceeding RM100,000 a month, but turned them all down.

“I just tell them I prefer working in Penang Hospital.

“I understand surgeons who go into private practice. It is not easy, what we do.

“After sacrificing many years in public service, it is acceptable to join the private sector and start earning well for our families,” he said.

Although he hardly spends time at home, he wanted his wife and parents to know he owes his McCormack Medal to them.

“In Penang Hospital, we do two to three heart and lung surgeries every day and we ‘squander’ over RM100,000 each day on those surgeries.

“I consider that as taxpayers’ money very well spent. Cardiac surgeries make people live longer,” he said.

Dr Basheer said the Health Ministry allows its consultant surgeons to do limited private practice after hours and on their days off and through that, he was satisfied to earn a little more.

“It is spiritual. Our patients show so much gratitude and tell us they will pray for us every day. I believe in that.

“Allah may sometimes not fulfil our prayers, but He will not ignore the prayers of the people we save,” he said with a smile.

But Dr Basheer said there are only 11 heart and lung surgeons in government hospitals nationwide, three of whom plus one junior consultant are in Penang Hospital’s Cardiothoracic Unit, where he is the head.

“We serve the whole northern region in a 24-bed ward.

“The Health Ministry has been fully supportive. I want people to know that they hardly pay anything for our surgery procedures and the ministry subsidises it all.

“Yes, there is a long waiting list. To serve the northern region, the ministry will have to commit even more and in the meantime, I ask that Malaysians don’t smoke, exercise for just 30 minutes at least three days a week, eat healthily and I guarantee that you will have little chance of needing to see me,” he said.


Source: The Star

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