WhyItMatters

Foreign doctors help fill a need

As Singapore's population ages, the need for doctors will increase.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure start rising in people who are 40 years and older. Left untreated, they can lead to severe health problems such as blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks and stroke.

Although this year's intake of 460 medical students is about double the figure a decade ago, it will be many years before they join the workforce.

Meanwhile, Singapore needs enough doctors to help this growing group of older people to keep their chronic ailments under control, so that they can continue to lead normal lives.

Public sector hospitals and polyclinics have turned to recruiting qualified foreign doctors to fill this need - so much so that today, one in four is a foreigner.

These foreign doctors do not take jobs away from locals but, instead, help to lighten their workload and provide much needed care to patients.

These doctors are in no way inferior to local ones.

Possibly the only gripes are their lack of facility in local languages or dialects when treating older patients who do not speak English, and not understanding local cultures in a way that might impact their patients' treatment.

Public institutions have tried to overcome these by pairing such doctors with local nurses, or having translators ensure accurate communication.

Many foreign doctors have also put in extra effort to learn the local lingo, and some have become so well assimilated that it would be difficult to tell they are foreigners.

Even those of non-Asian origins can have good rapport with their patients. It is in their blood. Anyone who spends years studying how to take care of sick people must have their welfare at heart.

For a patient, it really doesn't matter where a doctor was born or what languages he speaks. What's important is that he is knowledgeable, experienced and cares.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Foreign doctors help fill a need'. Print Edition | Subscribe