Losing Healthcare Talent, Hong Kong Recruiting Medical Graduates From Mainland China

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Hong Kong recently released a special registration program, allowing medical graduates from 50 non-local institutions to practice in Hong Kong. Fudan University became the first institution in mainland China to have its Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree, a six-year degree program, recognized by Hong Kong.

The city’s Registrar of Medical Practitioners announced the list of 50 institutions in two batches, with 27 released in late April, and 23 on June 8, which included Fudan University. Most of the other universities are from English-speaking countries, such as the United States, UK, Canada, and Australia. In addition, Singapore and South Africa each has one school recognized under the new program.

“The announcement of the recognized medical qualifications in batches by the Special Registration Committee (SRC) enables qualified non-locally trained doctors to come to serve in the public healthcare institutions in Hong Kong through special registration as soon as possible, with a view to alleviating the current shortage of doctors in the public healthcare system,” Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said, according to an official statement released on June 8.

The 2021 Medical Registration Ordinance Amendment, which became effective at the end of October 2021, allows eligible doctors to eventually obtain full registration status in Hong Kong after meeting certain criteria.

It is expected that more mainland Chinese medical schools will be included in the SRC accreditation list in the future.

However, many in Hong Kong’s healthcare sector questioned the huge difference between China’s and Hong Kong’s medical systems, as the gap in professionalism and skill levels, and the language barrier, will cause problems.

Hong Kong’s medical system uses English as its working language, and most Hong Kong people communicate in Cantonese, while the mainland doctors’ working language is Mandarin.

Choi Kin, president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, also expressed concerns with regard to language barrier.

Hong Kong physicians and nurses document cases and write prescriptions in English. If their mainland colleagues speak Mandarin and write simplified Chinese characters, it could turn out to be a chaotic situation, he said.

Kin believes that the Hospital Authority of Hong Kong has the responsibility to train mainland doctors until they can comfortably communicate with their colleagues and patients. When some people insisted that language barrier is not a big issue, Kin said, “Only time will tell.”

Faltering Performance of Chinese COVID Relief Team

In fact, the medical team from the mainland who went to Hong Kong to support the COVID treatment this year failed to effectively relieve the pressure of the local medical staff due to the many cultural differences between China and Hong Kong.

At the time, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority specifically changed the clinical management interface in a dedicated treatment facility to Chinese, including the drug list and workflow, in order to help the mainland medical staff who prefer Chinese-language information. However, when a patient recovered and was discharged from the hospital, Hong Kong medical staff had to make an additional English document and input it to Hospital Authority’s system, as revealed by Dr. Ling Siu Chi Tony, president of the Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association.

The Hospital Authority also advised Hong Kong medical staff to “discuss” and “instruct” the mainland staff who came to support. Some medics at Hong Kong’s public hospitals criticized the directive, saying that instead of relieving their pressure, these extra tasks added to their burdens and decreased their work efficiency.

Loss of Healthcare Talent

Amid the emigration wave from Hong Kong, the city lost a large number of medical workers last year.

In response to a written query from the Legislative Council in April this year, the Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau confirmed that in 2021-2022, a total of over 3,300 healthcare workers left their jobs, including 436 doctors, 2,240 nurses, and 662 health workers.

The document pointed out that Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority will implement further measures to retain medical staff in 2022, with an estimated expenditure of about 180 million yuan (about $22.93 million). Measures include postponing retirement, increasing promotion opportunities, and providing specialist nurse allowances to qualified registered nurses.

For mainland medical graduates, the big salary gap between Hong Kong and China makes Hong Kong a dream place to work.

Ms. Peng, a physician working at a public hospital in Shanghai, told Radio Free Asia that she would definitely be willing to work in Hong Kong if given such an opportunity. “In addition to higher wages, I can become a permanent resident of Hong Kong after 7 years, and my chances of emigrating to other countries are also greater than those in China,” Peng said.

According to the 2021 China Hospital Salary Survey Report, the average salary of a level-4 Chinese physician in 2020 was about $2,452 per month, while Hong Kong’s official data shows that local doctors’ salaries are between $8,976 and $15,515 per month.

Jennifer Bateman


Jennifer Bateman is a news writer focused on China.

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