Foreign professors seek exemption from exams

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 August, 2011, 12:00am


Foreign doctors working at Hong Kong's two medical schools are calling for medical licensing rules to be relaxed so they can run their own private practices without having to sit for an examination first.

But a member of the Medical Council, which requires foreign doctors to write its examinations for a licence to practise, said such a request should be rejected out of fairness and in the public interest.

The university doctors - some of them senior professors who have been teaching in Hong Kong for decades - are practising under 'limited registration'. They work in Hong Kong without having sat the Medical Council's licensing examination but their work is restricted to the teaching hospitals.

The issue of limited registration has become a hot topic since the Hospital Authority last month announced a plan to import about 20 overseas doctors to fill a manpower shortage.

As of the end of June, 154 foreign doctors were registered with the Medical Council under limited registrations, compared with 11,000 local doctors who work with full licences. Among these foreigners, 36 worked at the University of Hong Kong, 54 at Chinese University, two at the Hospital Authority and one at the Department of Health. The remaining 61 are so-called 'grandparents' - doctors who registered in the 1960s as employees with some community organisations.

Some professors told the South China Morning Post they believe the medical profession in Hong Kong 'is not open enough' to foreigners.

'We have a job security as long as the university keeps supporting us, but the difficult thing is when we get to retirement age - where can we find a job?' one professor asked.

'We are not allowed to have a private practice. Many of us may have another 20 years to live after retirement; we worry about what will happen after our university contracts end. The Hong Kong medical profession should open up the market,' the professor added.

The professor said he had adopted Hong Kong as home after spending more than 10 years teaching here, and he would like to practise in the city after his retirement from the university.

'But the current rules just don't allow us to do so.'

These university doctors can have their licences renewed annually on condition that the university continues to hire them. But once their contracts with the medical school end they have to leave Hong Kong. If they want to continue to practise in Hong Kong after their employment, they'll have to write the licensing examination.

The university doctors are asking the Medical Council to provide a way for them to get a full licence without writing an examination. They say they will feel uncomfortable taking an examination set for recent medical graduates as well as the 12-month internship that follows. Some of the professors are examiners for those taking specialists' examinations.

'We do not see why we have to sit for an examination prepared for medical graduates. We have been interns before, we have done that already. I find the Medical Council rules rather offensive,' another professor said, adding that the frustration was shared among many of his colleagues.

Dr Choi Kin, the president of Hong Kong Medical Association and member of the Medical Council, said the system should be 'fair to all' and no special treatment should be given to university doctors.

He said the council licensing examination already allows exempt candidates from being assessed for areas in which they are specialised.

'If these doctors want to have a general practice after their contracts with the universities end, they must prove that they have the general knowledge to practise as a general practitioner, not only as a specialist. Granting these doctors an exemption from the examination would be unfair to those who sit for it.'

Choi said a professor once failed the Medical Council examination, proving even a specialist may not have enough general knowledge.