With the severe brain drain in Malaysia, it is indeed welcoming news when Malaysian doctors and other professionals choose to serve their country.
Gastroenterologist Datuk Dr Ryan Ponnudurai is one such person. He thought about working abroad after graduating from medical school rather than coming back to serve in Malaysia when he left Alor Setar in the 1980s to study in Ireland.
A top-tier, lucrative position at a San Diego hospital in the US was on the table for him. And yet Dr Ryan opted against accepting the offer because he wanted to experience a year or two serving in his own country before returning to the US.
“However, that did not happen. I loved Selayang Hospital so much that I never went back. I gave up San Diego for Selayang, and I have never regretted it.” The gastroenterologist is now based at the Prince Court Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
Despite his credentials and being trained in Germany at one of the greatest centres in the world for endoscopic ultrasound operations, he was offered just a Medical Officer’s position.
“The Ministry of Health (MoH) then delayed confirming my position as they were unsure how to recognise my qualifications.
“I showed them the letter of offer from San Diego, which was a US$350,000 a year salary and the Nobel Visa (given to individuals who possess extraordinary ability in the sciences) given to me by the Americans.”
Despite that, they made him a Medical Officer which is perplexing given that officials at the MoH should be very familiar with such qualifications.
Instead of being disheartened, Dr Ryan set up the gastroenterology unit at the hospital and continued to train others.
“I said okay, I will continue training other doctors for one year. I literally worked for free, but I did not complain because I thought I was going back to the US anyway.”
His luck changed when a cardiologist treating former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad learned about how the MoH was treating him.
The cardiologist went to Dr Mahathir with Dr Ryan’s CV and informed him of what was happening and that Malaysian talents who had returned were not being duly recognised.
“Dr Mahathir immediately called up the Health Minister and asked why this was happening. Within two days everything, including my pay was backdated, and I was given a consultancy position.”
Since then, Dr Ryan established endoscopy ultrasound services at the hospital and began conducting live endoscopy workshops for international audiences, performing all sorts of endoscopy procedures.
“We became world-renowned and even did live transmissions to Harvard University. People were flying in to watch us conduct the procedures. At the same time, the Americans started calling me, asking when I planned to go back.
“However, I had come to love working at Selayang Hospital, and in the middle of my second year, I told them that I was giving up my San Diego position.”
The 56-year-old said he was also offered various positions at world renowned hospitals such as Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. However, he turned down all the offers to serve in Malaysia.