Shortage of Occupational Therapists in Malaysia

“In Malaysia, we have around 1,800 occupational therapists but we are required to serve a population of about 32 million. That is a ratio of 1:17,777,” Malaysian Occupational Therapy Association president Mr Soh Say Beng said.

This rate is three times below the global average of occupational therapist-to-population ratio of 1:5,000

Patients in the Klang Valley are in a better position as it has the largest concentration of occupational therapists in the country.

Among others, occupational therapy is required to help surgery patients regain mobility of their limbs or to help children with learning disabilities.

Though all major public hospitals have their own occupational therapists, Soh said the teams were small and the waiting time to receive treatment could be up to two months. “Ideally, patients should receive OT intervention within a week.The longer you wait, the patient’s muscle grows weaker from disuse; their limbs become still and their motivation drops drastically,” he added.

The UMMC’s department of rehabilitative medicine, where Soh works, has 103 OTs and is the largest and most established rehabilitation centre in Malaysia.

“District hospitals and health clinics are not well staffed with OTs. It makes it harder for us to reach out to those who need treatment,” he said.

At present, many Malaysians who suffer physical or mental impairment are unable to return to work, ending up staying at home under their families’ care.“Our task is to get them to regain their independence, so that they can lead a productive life,” he said.

Students of occupational therapy are being offered jobs even before their graduation, said Dr Chai Siaw Chui, who lectures at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Occupational Therapy program.

“If you have a qualification in OT, you can go anywhere,” she said, referring to the versatility of the profession. Apart from public healthcare, she said OT specialists could choose to work in pediatric and geriatric care, mental institutions, city councils or the Social Security Organi­sation.

The starting salary of OTs in public service is usually at RM2,429 (Grade U41) while doctors start at RM2,947 (Grade UD41)

Dr Chai said occupational therapy students were trained to seek creative solutions to their patients’ problems, which range from psycho-social issues to having an ill-equipped working environment.

The ideal ratio, according to Dr Chai, was one occupational therapist for every 2,000 people.

About 90% of the 230 graduates produced annually in the country end up working in the civil service, taking up positions in public hospitals and in the Health Ministry, said Dr Chai.

Those numbers, she said, were not enough to fill up rehabilitative roles, preventing OTs from reaching their potential of promoting health and preventive therapies.

Dr Chai, who specialises in hand therapy, explained that OT played an important role in ensuring surgery patients regain mobility of their limbs.

“Let’s take the case of a patient who has had his hand reattached by surgery. The surgery offers a 50% chance of him regaining his mobility. Another 50% depends on OT,” she said.

She said OTs would also help children with learning disabilities.

Though some functions of OTs overlap with physiotherapists, the latter work primarily with helping individuals recover from injuries with a combination of massage and exercise.

/theSTAR 18-09-2016 

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