Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 May, 2008, 12:00am

Hong Kong-born Samson Cho, who dreamed of becoming a doctor and running a Mong Kok clinic where patients are treated for free, got his medical degree on the mainland and then specialised in sports medicine. His ambition now is to run a clinic for climbers at Mount Everest

As a secondary school student in Hong Kong, Samson Cho Sum-sing used to dream of becoming a doctor and running a clinic in Mong Kok where patients would be treated for free.

So when his academic results weren't good enough to get him into Hong Kong's highly competitive medical schools, he decided to try universities on the mainland. What he did not know was that, at the time, most mainland medical schools were still closed to overseas students.

But perseverance paid off and he ended up studying at Fujian Medical University, a tertiary institute that was not his first choice. After spending five years in Fujian , where he got a medical degree and a general practitioner's licence, he moved to Shanghai. Now, three years later, he holds a postgraduate degree in sports medicine from one of the mainland's top tertiary institutions, Fudan University, and works in one of the nation's best hospitals, Huashan. The Hong Kong-born doctor will be one of the four officers responsible for finding out if athletes participating in the Olympic events in Shanghai have taken drugs to boost performance. Shanghai will host the Games' soccer competition.

'I am probably the first Hongkonger to practise medicine in a mainland public hospital,' said Dr Cho, as he had lunch in a garden restaurant under an early spring sun. It was rare for him to have a proper lunch, let alone a relaxing, long meal, he said. 'There was an occasion when I worked non-stop in the hospital for 60 hours. From time to time, I work 40 hours non-stop,' he said.

On top of his full-time job, Dr Cho engages in freelance photography and sells household and health-care products manufactured by Amway. He also coaches and trains executives of multinational companies in cross-country running. But that's not all - he maintains a blog where he answers questions on health and medicine, especially on sports injuries.

A passion for photography and sports is his driving force. 'I love all kinds of sports. You name it, I can play it. I'm particularly keen on cross-country running and mountaineering.'

Dr Cho also spoke of the difficulties faced by doctors on the mainland, where the pay is so low that some have resorted to receiving kickbacks. 'Guess how much the hospital pays me every month? It's 2,000 yuan,' he said. 'It is ridiculous, but what can you do under a system which doesn't pay its medical practitioners enough for them to survive.'

The system prompted many doctors to take kickbacks to survive, he said. The money came from pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers of medical equipment. Patients also put cash in red packets and give them to their doctors.

'Patients don't have to give red packets. Doctors always try their best to treat and save their patients,' he said, pointing out that kickbacks are illegal.

'I'm too junior to receive kickbacks. But I know I will encounter them eventually. I don't know what I should do. I discussed this with my colleagues and friends. We talked about whether the kickbacks will influence our work or whether we should accept it.

'Kickbacks are against my principles. The reason I wanted to become a doctor is to treat people for free. But the salary is so shameful. That is why I have several part-time jobs. If I can earn enough money to give myself a decent living then I will be free from the temptation of kickbacks,' he said.

But by taking up several part-time jobs, Dr Cho faces another dilemma. 'To be a good doctor, we need to be focused. But the part-time jobs are competing for the time I have as a doctor,' he said.

Despite his difficulties, Dr Cho has not considered practising medicine in Hong Kong. 'I'm a specialist in sports medicine. China is a sports power with many top athletes. I have more chances here than in Hong Kong,' he said, pointing out that basketball star Yao Ming and superstar hurdler Liu Xiang had sought treatment at the hospital where he works. He also hopes one day to run a clinic on the Chinese side of Mount Everest and treat climbers for free.

Guess how much the hospital pays me every month? It's 2,000 yuan