Overseas graduates must be employed in public hospitals
I graduated from the faculty of medicine of the University of Hong Kong 33 years ago.
I have been working in public hospitals ever since my graduation and am a consultant physician.
Today's medical manpower deficiency in public hospitals is the worst that we have witnessed in 33 years. Ten to 20 per cent of my department's frontline medical officer positions have been unfilled in the past few years.
This is already a common phenomenon in many departments in almost all public hospitals.
It is not only our junior staff who share the deficiency; senior staff like me and my senior colleagues all have to help with additional duties.
Both HKU and Chinese University have increased their medical student intake, and will continue to do so, but it will take another three to four to years before we can see a higher number of medical graduates.
Moreover, for the first few years the increase will only be very modest. We need immediate measures to maintain medical standards and to protect our patients against lack of care.
Junior frontline doctors are required to work long hours (24 to 30 hours a shift) on call, and must work four to eight on-call shifts a month.
It is perfectly understandable that nobody wants to lead a life like this for long.
The Hospital Authority has proposed new measures to improve working conditions for doctors, but the real issue of manpower deficiency has not and cannot be addressed, simply because there are not enough doctors in the market.
Many doctors working in the private sector argue that there is no shortage of doctors in Hong Kong and that there is only a shortage in public hospitals.
However, records have shown that practically no doctors in the private sector have returned to work as frontline doctors taking night calls in public hospitals.
Therefore there only one solution: we must allow overseas graduates to be employed in public hospitals. The number to be employed can be calculated from the current deficiency and be adjusted annually.
The public should feel safe, as these doctors have all finished their internships in overseas hospitals.
Some of them may even have years of post-internship hospital working experience.
Moreover, they will not be working alone, but will be under the close supervision of the hospitals' senior staff specialists.
As a long-time eyewitness to our severe manpower deficiency, I propose immediate action allowing public hospitals to employ overseas medical graduates.
Dr Paul C. M. Chang, North Point