Code red: Vietnam faces serious doctor shortage in Mekong Delta

Thanh Nien News

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Poor patients in a charity cataract operation program at Can Tho Central General Hospital. Photo: Dinh Tuyen Poor patients in a charity cataract operation program at Can Tho Central General Hospital. Photo: Dinh Tuyen


Hospitals across the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam are facing severe shortages of doctors, leaving even the largest medical centers in dire straits, according to local media reports. 
A survey released by the Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy on Monday found that the 13 city and provinces in the region desperately need more doctors, particularly in the specialties of anatomic pathology, tuberculosis, leprosy, mental health and forensic examination.
There are only 52 doctors working in those five branches and half of them will reach retirement age within the next four years. 
The Bac Lieu Mental Hospital, for instance, has only two doctors even though with 80 beds it should have at least 20. One of the doctors will retire next year. 
Kien Giang Province has no tuberculosis and lung doctor while several others have between one and five each. 
Nguyen Minh Tung, deputy director of Bac Lieu Provice's health department, said the province will launch a tuberculosis hospital in early 2017 and is facing difficulties recruiting 115 doctors.
Many medical students are not interested in the five areas, said Cao My Phuong, director of Tra Vinh's health department. 
Some students are willing to wait for a year to enroll in general practitioner programs instead of studying to become a specialist, she said. 
Regional health officials have also warned that many doctors in the public sector are migrating to private hospitals for higher income.
Vuong Phuong Nam, deputy chairman of Bac Lieu People’s Committee, said there are 15 doctors in the province who have quit their jobs at public hospitals recently.
Tu Quoc Tuan, director of An Giang Health Department, said that the average monthly income for a doctor at public hospitals is about VND8 million (US$358).
Many doctors are now willing to repay training costs to be able to move to better paying positions elsewhere, he noted. 
Officials say medical schools may need to lower entry requirements to attract more students otherwise the personnel crisis will remain unresolved, or can even get worse. Some critics, however, argue that this is not a good solution because only the best students should be allowed to enter medical schools.

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