Bitter pill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2011, 12:00am


In a recent column, I talked about the urgent need to reform the Medical Council. I criticised local private doctors for protecting their own interests at the expense of public health care by opposing the recruitment of overseas-trained doctors.

The plan to allow qualified doctors to work here without having to sit licensing exams is meant to ease the manpower shortages at public hospitals. They will be allowed to work only in the public sector.

The column attracted many responses from overseas and overseas-trained doctors and their families, who said it reflected their views about the current situation.

These doctors come from a range of academic and professional backgrounds, including a professor at the department of surgery at a top local university, a medicine graduate from the University of Edinburgh, a New Zealand-registered house surgeon, and a doctor who graduated from Johns Hopkins University. Some of them feel that the licensing exam system is not only opaque but highly unfair as its exam papers for overseas doctors are more difficult. They claim this has resulted in a 90 per cent failure rate among overseas doctors over the years.

In one response, the wife of an overseas-trained doctor who failed the exam said the goal seemed to be to obstruct the recruitment of overseas doctors.

Many of these overseas doctors are local residents. They have studied and worked abroad and now want to contribute their knowledge and skills to help improve Hong Kong's health care system. Many understand local culture, and their commitment, different perspectives and overseas experience would benefit the public medical sector.

In another case, a Eurasian doctor, who was born in Hong Kong, speaks adequate Cantonese and is a permanent Hong Kong identity-card holder, says she wants to return to work in Hong Kong, but believes she probably never will because of the 'onerous' entry requirements. She is now a successful surgeon practising in Britain.

No doubt there are many others like her who will probably never get an opportunity to work here unless this outdated system changes.

It's time to review the licensing exam. It is meant of course to uphold the high standards of health care services in Hong Kong, not protect private interests.

Another reader made a pointed argument. She said that, if our financial services had similar restrictions, and only locally certified graduates could be employed and foreign MBA holders were required to retake their MBAs locally, Hong Kong would become an international laughing stock.

Hong Kong is a world-class city and business hub for Asia. We encourage our young people to be educated and trained overseas. Yet, now, we don't accept their overseas qualifications. It's irrational.

We must place the well-being of the general public ahead of the interests of individual groups, move with the times and embrace diversity. Otherwise, Hong Kong will miss out. The average Hongkonger would benefit so much were it not for the absurd and outmoded system and regulations.

So, just who is the Medical Council serving, and who benefits most under the current system?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.