Shortage of Doctors in Singapore

What? Since when?

That was J.’s response when he read the My Life section of YouthLink: What to do about doctor shortage?.

Thinking he’d been under a rock for too long, he did a quick web seach and found the February 26, 2007 post on nofearSingapore. It covers most of the background information and offers the author’s own views.

Now, as far as this medical student is concerned, there’s a glut of doctors, not a shortage, except in certain fields (e.g. renal medicine, general medicine, geriatrics, palliative medicine). People talk of having three competing general practitioners (GPs) in one HDB block . Medical students speak of 30 applicants for 4 specialty training places (e.g. orthopaedic surgery).

As mentioned in the Career Seminar post, there are small measures to make these unattractive career options more attractive. There are also monetary disincentives for the more attractive (e.g. greater prestige, better hours, easier language, more money) specialties.

“The country needs to produce 400-600 locally trained doctors annually, up from the current level of more than 200, the paper quoted Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan as saying.”

What? Siao boh?

Where are the majority of these doctors going to go? Do we need 6 GP clinics per HDB block to drive down prices? Who is going to pay the salaries of all the doctors in the public sector? Are there spaces in all the departments for these doctors? And where is the demand coming from?

So anyway, in the meantime, you have these young people who are saying things like, “Import medical professors”, “Keep potential doctors here”, “Make it a better place for them [foreign doctors]”.

“If you want to bring down waiting times, we need to recruit more doctors, much more than a few percent.”

Now as it is, it is uncommon to find GPs with more than a few people waiting outside. Similarly, at private hospitals, waiting times are very short. In polyclinics and subsidised parts of public hospitals, waiting times are longer.

Let J. translate: pay more, wait less. It is an incentive to avoid overcrowding the public sector, saving it for the ones who need the subsidy more. Politically correct? Not really. Practical? Hell yes.

How many more doctors do we need? Is it going to be practical? Will it improve medical care overall? Will it distribute more people to the public hospitals, driving away talents in the private care to other countries?

What is the obsession with bringing up physician numbers based on statistics? Do we really lack doctors?

There must be some part of the argument J. is missing. Because currently, J. doesn’t get it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by P on March 6, 2007 at 8:42 am

    My take: Too few doctors in specialities that are less popular with medical students.


  2. So to improve that, instead of making these specialities more attractive, they’re going to increase the number of medical professoinals. How’s that going to solve the problem?


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