Surfeit of Vietnam medical schools raise fears about quality

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Too many universities and vocational schools in the country have been licensed to offer medical and paramedical courses, sparking widespread skepticism about their facilities, quality of training, and likely quality of their graduates.

Only recently have there been media headlines about a rash of cases of inexplicable deaths and complications at hospitals.

Media investigations uncovered that many of the schools lack adequate equipment in their laboratories and lecturers, who are often hired from other schools when needed.

Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper wrote about the plight of students at several universities.  

The vice rector of Tra Vinh University, a public university, which got permission to offer nursing and medical technicians' courses in 2012 and medicine and public health courses this year, admitted that his school only bought equipment when needed.

Ministry of Health records show there were 26 universities, 74 colleges, and 44 vocational schools offering medical training at the end of last year.

"Training doctors now is as common as training computer repairmen, plumbers, or watchmakers," an unnamed doctor and lecturer at a Ho Chi Minh City-based medical university told Sai Gon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) newspaper.

"Since it earns them huge profits, too many schools offer medical training without being aware that it is a significant occupation."

Another lecturer at a university in HCMC, also not named, was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying that opening medical schools is very simple. All someone has to do is draw up a list of famous names and put it in their application whether or not they are later hired to get approval from the Ministry of Education and Training, the lecturer said.

Many university officials in HCMC admitted to Thanh Nien that though the education ministry has comprehensive requirements for licensing schools, including facilities, teaching staff, and curriculum, many schools get around them.

For instance, there is a stipulation that a faculty should have a Ph.D and three postgraduates, but schools simply pay retired lecturers VND5-10 million (US$237-474) a month and social insurance premiums to have their names on the payroll without actually involving them in any of the school's activities.

Admissions to these schools also worry many people.

In an interview with Thanh Nien last month Pham Van Linh, rector of the Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said many private medical universities recruit students who score around 14 in three subjects in the entrance exam, while many vocational schools admit students if they have merely finished high school.

Also last month the headmasters of many major medical schools held a meeting where they complained about the training quality at private schools, the quality of students, and their facilities.

But the truth is that training quality in public schools too has been declining, with internship periods often being less intensive due to lack of enthusiastic instructors as a result of low salaries, Sai Gon Tiep Thi said.

Le Hoang Son, director of the HCMC Hospital of Traditional Medicine, told the newspaper: "The quality of graduate students now is low. Though we provide them additional training, sometimes for six or seven months, they fail to meet our job requirements."

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