Ensure long-term plans for junior doctors

There is a difference between Singapore doctors who are trained abroad and those who merely get their medical education abroad ("More S'pore docs trained abroad are coming home"; Monday).

In the medical field, training typically refers to periods of supervised work experience, where doctors, for the first time, take a front-line role in providing clinical care.

These training periods are variably referred to as internships, housemanships, residencies or fellowships - depending on how far the trainee has advanced.

Doctors must complete these training programmes and pass the requisite board exams in order to be certified competent for the independent practice of medicine.

Many of the cases in the programme described in the report appear to be recent medical graduates who are taking up entry-level training positions back in Singapore.

And why should the clarification between "trained" and "educated" matter?

Although there are push factors in the British and Australian markets, where most Singaporeans obtain overseas medical degrees, there must also be enough local demand to create the reported shift.

Therefore, this hiring trend suggests where labour demands lie in our public hospitals, which is at the level of junior, non-specialised doctors who carry out the trenchwork of our wards and clinics, and require supervision.

Two questions surface from this: What are the long-term career options for these junior doctors, and are there overseas Singaporean physicians who are trained abroad and desire to return home?

The first question needs to be seriously addressed, given the aggressive hiring of medical students educated abroad and the rapid expansion of medical schools in Singapore.

Very soon, we could be faced with a glut of medical trainees who have completed the requisite years of basic training and licensing.

It is not feasible for these doctors to remain in junior positions indeterminately, so what options are available to them then?

Does our medical system have the capacity for upward mobility and advancing career aspirations? Is there enough fluidity in the physician hiring market? Are we truly addressing why doctors currently leave the public sector?

We should also investigate if there are trained Singaporean physicians who are practising abroad, and if we should also try to attract them home.

Singapore can benefit much from their diverse experiences and collective knowledge, without incurring the time and costs of more training.

And, as we model ourselves into a hub for medical research and innovation, doctors who are groomed in such traditions overseas can inject ideas and energy into this drive.

Kenny Ching Hwee Seong


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2016, with the headline 'Ensure long-term plans for junior doctors'. Print Edition | Subscribe