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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Excerpt #28: A Much-Welcomed Lighter Workload

Excerpt # 28: A Much-Welcomed Lighter Workload
M. Bakri Musa (www.bakrimusa.com)

Towards the latter half of the year UKM had a second surgeon, Dr. Bahari Habib. He had just passed his FRCS (Edinburgh) the previous year. He graduated together with Mahmud, the departmental chief, from the University of Malaya, and had attended the prestigious Penang Free School.

            My first introduction to Penang Malays was at Malay College in 1961 when I joined its Sixth Form. That school was (and still is) exclusively Malay. Imagine my surprise to see on my first day there so many ‘Indian’ students. I made an unpardonable boo boo thinking that they were Indians who could speak Malay. My friend Ramli corrected me, and just in time. That experience notwithstanding, when I met Bahari that day I spoke to him in English because I thought he was Indian. Only when he responded in Malay and referred to me as “Hang” (you) in the distinctive Penang Malay dialect did I realize my error.

            Seeing that Bahari was just back from Britain, I had him coast along for a while. Later at the end of the week, we agreed that he, Mahmud, and I would get together to discuss our clinical supervisory arrangements.

            Even before the week had ended, he had asked through Mahmud for the meeting. Earlier, the nurses had intimated to me that Bahari was not happy that I was “running a one-man show.” At our meeting however, Bahari, being a Malay, was very polite and even deferential. It was not fair for me to carry all the load, he said. That sounded much more pleasing to my ears!

            Not being on the faculty, I was very much aware of the sensitive nature of my position in the university’s unit. Tan Sri Majid had emphasized that to me at the very beginning. Always cognizant of that advice, I made sure that Mahmud was in the loop throughout. I also wanted his help and co-operation.

            It did not take long for Mahmud to excuse himself saying that what I was doing in the Unit was new and foreign to him. He had never been exposed to such formal teaching programs when he was at the University of Malaya or in Britain. That did not surprise me as I had a few fellow trainees back in Canada who had been through the British system.

            Like Mahmud earlier, I let Bahari pick his clinical as well as teaching load and responsibilities that would suit his time and interest. He chose the basic science seminar and the Clinico-Pathological Conference (CPC). As for clinical load, he picked the women’s ward.

            My practice with the CPC had been to choose the appropriate cases and then give the list to Professor Kutty the day before so he could be prepared. I would also assign the interns who would be presenting the clinical details. I apprised Bahari of my routine and he seemed to have understood me.

            On the appointed morning, Kutty reminded me that he had not received the list. However, he was not one to be easily distracted. List or no list he went ahead with the cases he had on hand. When he asked for the clinical details, as Bahari had not assigned anyone, we wasted much time asking for volunteers among the interns.

            After the presentation, Kutty cornered me with a look of concern seeing that we had departed from our routine. Things were not in their usual smooth flow. He asked if everything was okay with me and my family. He thought that I was distracted by some personal family events. I assured him otherwise and said that Bahari was now in charge of the CPC. He rubbed his forehead with his right palm and whispered, “Doc, we had it going so well! Why change now?”

            That afternoon I went to see Bahari to go over again with him how I did it before. When I finished, he disagreed. “No, that’s spoon feeding.”

            He argued that the preparations should be the trainees’ responsibilities; they should take the initiative, not him. I reminded him that these students were used only to the passive one-way lecture-style teaching of their undergraduate years but not to our graduate-level, seminar-type active learning environment that I was trying to cultivate. He grasped my point and in the end asked me to take the conference back until he would be prepared leading it.

“That’s too much work. I can’t do it now! I just came back from Britain and had hardly unpacked.”

            That little hiccough aside, our clinical and teaching programs proceeded as before. Soon the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh had their oral examinations at our hospital. Among the candidates, four were from our unit, two for Part I and two for the final Part II. During the months before the examination, I tailored my teaching rounds accordingly. Zul and Yusha sat for Part I; for Part II, Freda and the Indian registrar, who would be sitting for her umpteenth time. She was on the government service, the other three, UKM. I told everyone that at the program where I trained, it was expected for all candidates to pass at the first crack. I also told them that I expected to maintain that track record locally.

            After the examination, I met my candidates; they were all beaming. None of the questions surprised them as I had asked those very same questions or variations thereof many times before during our rounds. When the results were announced later that day, all four of my candidates passed, including the perennial test taker!

            I knew much earlier in the day that my candidates had done well. Datuk Menon, one of the examiners, came by to congratulate me right after the last session and wanted to know what I had done right. He told me that the British examiners too were impressed with my candidates. I told Menon that he should congratulate my trainees as they did all the hard work. I had also met one of the British examiners. He had inquired where I was trained in Canada. When I replied the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, he beamed and exclaimed, “Walter’s program?”

            That “Walter” was Walter C McKenzie, the legendary Dean and Professor of Surgery. By the time I started my residency training, the program was under the equally sterling leadership of Robert Macbeth, McKenzie’ immediate successor.

            No matter how you analyzed my candidates’ results, they were impressive. Both veterans and first-time takers passed; their only commonality was going through our program.

            It was a tradition at my old Canadian training program to take our instructors to a celebratory dinner after the examination results were released. I wanted to replicate the tradition locally but with a twist. With four successful candidates and their spouses, that would be quite a bill. I compromised and invited only Freda and her husband and billed it not as a celebration for her passing the examination but as welcoming her as a fellow full-fledged attending and faculty member. I also invited Mahmud and his wife, Sharifah, also a fellow faculty member.

            It was an elegant formal dinner-show at the Hilton, then thehotel in KL. The menu was Western, with the steaks specially flown in from Colorado, but the show was local, traditional Malay dances. Karen enjoyed the show and dinner very much, her first and wonderful introduction to local culture. Even the steak was on par with Alberta’s.

            With Freda now a full-fledged surgeon, my load was further lightened. We could now run an extended training program. The success with the FRCS examinations buoyed me, quite apart from enhancing our unit’s reputation among the house staff.

            The first and second surgical units were headed by senior distinguished surgeons. No surprise that they received the best house staff. The ones sent to my unit, the UKM candidates excepted, were generally those not welcomed in the other two. As a consequence, I had more female house staff members than could be accounted for by chance alone. During ward rounds I looked like a sultan with his harem tagging along. I also had a disproportionate share of house staff members who were, shall we say, more interested in psychiatry.

            That reference to harem was not incidental. With more than my share of pretty young female doctors, sex would be an inevitable problem, and it was, though not in the pattern I would have expected. Resolving it taxed me in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

Excerpt # 29:  Sex Rears Its Ugly Head
Excerpted from the writer’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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