HÀ NỘI — New medical graduates could be required to work for three to five years at healthcare centres in outlying regions to meet a critical lack of doctors and help improve healthcare services there.
Phạm Văn Tác, director of the Personnel Department under the Ministry of Health, said the proposed initiative would require graduates to work at district and communal level healthcare centres, particularly in Vit Nam’s 62 most disadvantaged districts.
“In the future, the requirement could be included in a law on social responsibilities and obligations of medical workers,” Tác told the Nhân Dân (The People) newspaper, adding that this would be a condition for a license to practice medicine.
In 2013, the Health Ministry launched a pilot programme for young doctors to volunteer in disadvantaged areas. Last month, after undergoing specialised training, 78 volunteers from central and provincial hospitals went to work in poor communes and districts of four northern provinces - Lào Cai, Sơn La, Bắc Kạn and Điện Biên.
Wanted: 600 doctors
According to the Health Ministry, the public healthcare sector in Viet Nam’s 62 poorest districts faces a shortage of about 600 doctors in 15 specialities.
The director of the Cao Bằng Province Health Department Lục Văn Đại, said that the province had 199 communal healthcare centres but only 90 had facilities meeting national standards, 40 needed more doctors and some didn’t even have one doctor. All the district general hospitals in the province lacked doctors.
For example, the Bắc Hà District General Hospital in northern Lào Cai Province has not received any new doctors in the last ten years, and some good ones have left. Vice director of the hospital Nguyễn Như Tuấn said there was a critical shortage of doctors for important departments like cardiology, and the hospital cannot perform half the treatments required by the health ministry of district hospitals.
A shortage of high-quality medical workers has been blamed for public mistrust in grassroots healthcare, resulting in overcrowding at higher-level hospitals, according to the ministry.
Health Minister Nguyễn Thị Kim Tiến said that working at grassroots healthcare centres in disadvantaged areas could offer young doctors practical lessons in various diseases and give them the chance to implement clinical treatments.
“Without strengthening grassroots healthcare, Việt Nam’s healthcare sector can’t address major issues like non-communicable diseases, child malnutrition, life span and the height and weight of Vietnamese,” she said.
“If Việt Nam can improve primary healthcare by sending high-quality staff to grassroots facilities, they will earn the trust of local people. They will use local healthcare centres instead of flocking to central-level hospitals,” she added.
Vũ Thị Lý, a new graduate from Việt Nam University of Traditional Medicine, said she agreed with minister Tiến about the advantages of working in primary healthcare centres. “We are aware of the disadvantages, too. For example, poor facilities and infrastructure put higher pressure on medical workers and patients, especially in emergencies,” she said. “Working in remote, disadvantaged areas should be optional instead of compulsory.”
Lý also said that policies for medical workers, particularly payment and allowances, should be improved to attract them to the public healthcare system.
Nguyễn Lan Phương, a new graduate from the Việt Nam Military Medical University, told Viet Nam News that medical students have longer training programmes than other students - six years instead of four - and are then required to do an internship of up to 18 months, part of which they have to fund themselves.
“If medical graduates are required to work in remote, disadvantaged areas to earn a licence, this means we have more challenges to overcome. The challenge will surely cost time, money and sweat,” she said. — VNS