Foreign doctors are a cure, not a curse

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:00am


When a young Hong Kong-born neurosurgeon from a pre-eminent medical school in Britain cannot practise in Hong Kong, you know something is rotten in the state of the medical profession here.

I heard from him this week, just as the Hospital Authority announced it was hiring nine overseas doctors as temporary recruits at public hospitals. The real number of vacancies is around 200. This talented specialist said that someone with his qualifications could practise anywhere in the world, except the US or Hong Kong.

Though its rationale is to maintain standards, the barriers raised by the Medical Council ensure that the best foreign doctors would never want to set foot in the city. Why? My medical friend explains: 'The UK exams [I took] are the same exams that Hong Kong specialist trainees must take to qualify, but still they don't count in Hong Kong.'

Local specialist colleges do not generally recognise UK qualifications. To requalify, my friend will have to sit a licensing exam which is much tougher than the medical school graduation exam, and then spend one year as an intern. You may get three months off if you have 10 years' experience. Then he can start specialist training all over again. 'In other words, write off the hard work of the past 10 years to start from scratch,' he said.

The nine new doctors have been exempted from taking the exams, but they are subject to annual review and renewal. How can anyone plan a career on temporary contracts?

Our rival, Singapore, is well aware of our ridiculous predicament, and is openly welcoming doctors from the UK, US and Australia, some of them Hong Kong-born. Serious blunders increased by a third at our public hospitals last year, and the severe manpower shortage is likely to be a factor. Lives are at stake, but the local doctors who are behind the Medical Council's hard stance are putting their own interests first.