Shortage of doctors? Train more Singaporeans locally

Posed photo of a person with a stethoscope.
Posed photo of a person with a stethoscope. PHOTO: ST FILE

It is disconcerting to note that, even with the increase in intake of medical students by our local universities, Singapore is still facing a shortage of doctors ("Number of foreign doctors rising in public sector"; Monday).

To plug the gap, we are looking to foreign doctors and encouraging Singaporeans in overseas universities to return here to work.

These measures have some shortcomings, as compared to having more Singaporeans trained here.

Our reliance on foreign doctors, especially those who are not conversant in our local languages, makes doctor-patient communication challenging.

Even with an interpreter bridging the language divide, subtle nuances may be lost in translation. Patients may also not be comfortable with discussing their medical conditions via an interpreter.

Also, will doctor-patient confidentiality be breached with the presence of an interpreter?

As it takes time for foreign doctors to gain an understanding of the cultural practices and taboos of the various ethnic groups, misunderstandings may arise in the interim.

Foreign doctors are also more likely to leave Singapore, and this higher turnover may affect patient care and lead to loss of institutional knowledge and skills gained here.

Instead of enticing Singaporeans to return after their medical studies abroad, it makes more sense for more of them to be trained by our own institutions in the first place.

The vast majority of our overseas medical students study in foreign universities because they could not get admission to a local university. Their families have to spend large sums of money to send them overseas. After having trained overseas, they would have to adapt to our healthcare system.

We may also lose many of them to the countries in which they have trained, thus exacerbating our dearth of doctors.

I hope that more places can be made available to Singaporeans in medical schools here, so that we can train a larger core of local doctors and rely less on foreign doctors in our healthcare system.

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2015, with the headline 'Shortage of doctors? Train more Singaporeans locally'. Print Edition | Subscribe