Leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport, we drove down a six-lane highway surrounded by massive palm tree plantations that seemed to go on forever. Immediately I was struck by the unique combination of modernization and environment. The man-made freeway flowed synchronistically over the natural landscape, providing a fusion of two worlds. This theme of a blended society followed us throughout our visit, and we noticed it in every aspect of the culture and healthcare system in Malaysia. Structurally, Malaysia is a mixture of diverse neighborhoods and architecture that almost make it seem like a beautiful combination of other countries. From the flowing canals of Melaka, to the soaring Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, there is no one description of Malaysia.
Malaysia is primarily made up of three distinct ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. This combination of people has lead to a rich, diverse, multicultural society that uniquely defines Malaysia. This mixing of cultures is evident in the language, food, religions, and customs of the country that reflect a synthesis of traditions. Often seeing both Malay and Chinese languages on street signs, I found most interesting the so-called “manglesh” that combines English and Malay words. For example, in every clinic we entered we saw a “farmasi kounter” and at night we would hail a “taksi” to take us to dinner. At the night market along Jalan Alor you can find every cuisine imaginable from traditional Malay to Cambodian to Thai or Indian. Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country with spectacular mosques around every corner, but it is also home to the largest Hindu temple outside of India at the Batu Caves. There is beautiful acceptance and harmony of every culture in Malaysia, and it is even visible in the unique healthcare that the country offers.
Lord Murugan Statue outside the Batu Caves in Malaysia
During our course, ‘Healthcare Innovations in Malaysia,’ we had the opportunity to visit both urban hospitals in Putrajaya and rural health clinics of Port Dickson. The variation between these facilities was significant in terms of the services available, but constant was each health worker’s passion and pride in their work. Impressive to our entire group was the combination of traditional and western medicine offered in the government health centers of Malaysia. Doctors practicing western medicine will often refer their patients to individuals certified in traditional medical practices such as acupuncture, massage or shirodhara. By incorporating traditional cultural medical practices into the range of services offered, the Malaysian healthcare system is able to further adapt to the diverse people it serves. One of the most personally impactful aspects of healthcare in Malaysia was the overwhelming majority of female doctors, nurses, and administrators. Our entire group noticed over and over again that a panel of female physicians greeted us at almost every clinic we visited. It was extremely impactful to see the Malaysian healthcare system run by such strong women, and I hope that is one lesson we can bring back to the United States.
When I think of Malaysia, I will forever be reminded of the beautiful fusion that this country represents. From the mixture of urban and rural environments to the simultaneous use of traditional and western medicine, Malaysia has mastered the art of merging two different sectors. I feel fortunate to have experienced the unique country of Malaysia, and I hope that my classmates and I can adapt the lessons we learned to our lives and our work in Los Angeles, creating another beautiful partnership.
The Master of Science in Global Medicine program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC offers study abroad courses in over a dozen countries around the world. Find out more about these opportunities, and the MS in Global Medicine program, by visiting msgm.usc.edu.