Hong Kong’s medical specialist training institution has proposed an early admission scheme for overseas doctors who want to complete the rest of their training in the city, in a bid to ease a manpower crunch in public hospitals and health care institutions. The Hong Kong Academy of Medicine will offer training places in its 69 specialities, in nine of its 15 colleges, while “active discussions are going on” for offering training places in the remaining six colleges. The exact number of places to be offered is yet to be determined. “We want to attract young talented doctors to Hong Kong so they can familiarise themselves with the city’s health care system, training methods and types of diseases prevalent here. They can also provide extra medical hands in the long run,” Professor Lau Chak-sing, president of the academy, said in an interview. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in her policy address earlier this year that the government would explore the feasibility of offering more incentives to overseas doctors to receive specialist training in Hong Kong, while not compromising opportunities for locally trained doctors. Public hospitals are short of about 350 doctors, and resources are further stretched during the flu season, which causes a surge in the number of patients. Local doctors have to go through six years of undergraduate studies and a one-year internship to become a general practitioner, followed by at least six more years of training to become a specialist. Hong Kong’s health care system is teetering on the brink Doctors trained abroad are allowed to work only in specific institutions, such as public hospitals and the two medical schools at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University, under the limited registration scheme of the Medical Council, the regulatory body for the profession. The scheme allows them to work in the city without sitting for the local licensing exam, and they are employed on renewable contracts of up to three years. As of November 2019, there were only 163 non-local doctors registered under the scheme. If doctors hired on the scheme wish to practise freely in Hong Kong, they have to sit for the local licensing exam and do an internship for 12 months. Under the academy’s new proposal, doctors educated overseas, who are registered under the limited registration scheme, enrolled in specialist programmes recognised by the academy, and have passed the first specialist exam, can complete the rest of the training in the academy, as opposed to the previous requirement of having passed the intermediate exam. Some non-local training experience such as working in the accident and emergency department of the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital will be recognised, to ensure the aspiring specialists will not have to redo the same training in Hong Kong again. University of Hong Kong’s Shenzhen move fuels brain drain fears “The two key principles are – the foreign doctors admitted should have similar standards as the local ones, and local doctors should have priority in being admitted,” Lau said. Details of the proposal are expected to be finalised as further discussion is going on in this regard with the Food and Health Bureau. Dr Arisina Ma Chung-yee, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association, expressed reservations about the scheme. “Local doctors will have priority in training places, but will they have priority in training material, such as clinical opportunities for treating certain rare diseases, too? They should be protected in this area too, as their education has largely been funded by the public.” Ma also doubted the effectiveness of the scheme in attracting foreign talent. “Doctors in Hong Kong have notoriously long working hours, low pay and poor working conditions. The high living costs and present political crisis have made the city more unattractive for foreign doctors.” But Patients’ Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong welcomed the proposal. “Anything that increases the supply of doctors in Hong Kong should be welcomed, and we believe the quality of foreign doctors admitted will be guaranteed as they will be required to pass the same exams as the local ones,” he said.