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Monday, February 15, 2010
English medical school programmes under fire
When there are not enough physicians to serve the people in Thailand and with the serious urban/rural gap in health personnel distribution, it is little wonder why the effort to set up international medical schools to serve wealthy patients from abroad has drawn fierce criticism.
The public outcry started when the Medical Council approved the proposal from the Medical School at Srinakarinwirote University-Prasarnmitr Campus, to set up an international medical school programme. The university's medical student body immediately issued an open letter to protest the initiative, which they said would further worsen the grave problem of the brain drain from state to private hospitals.
The National Health Personnel Committee and other health advocacy groups are also highly critical of the programme, which is also taking shape at several other universities.
The Medical Council reportedly argued that the English programme would not affect the brain drain problem because the Thai students would still have to fulfil their contract obligations to serve at state hospitals after graduation for a number of years, or pay compensation.
Many are not convinced.
No matter what the university authorities and the Medical Council say, the real issue is money.
Thailand's medical expertise has increasingly attracted patients from abroad, so much so that successive governments have wanted to make Thailand an international medical hub to increase foreign income.
It is the private hospitals that are profiting from this medical hub policy. Given the medical profession's fierce resistance to allowing foreign doctors to practice in Thailand, there is then a need to produce doctors with English-language proficiency to serve English-speaking customers.
Incidentally, the Medical Council's blessings for the international medical school programme came amid increasing criticism of the council as being in favour of private hospitals.
Globalisation is not the only reason for the popularity of international programmes at universities, though. The government policy to make state universities more financially self-supporting has forced them to seek more tuition income by setting up international programmes at its various faculties. The medical schools are no exception.
Since the international programme is more expensive, it will attract mainly students from wealthy families who would have no problem paying compensation for skipping work in rural hospitals. In no time, they will be busy working in private hospitals with much better pay and work environment.
It is clear whom this programme will serve.
A dean from a leading medical school reportedly said the English medical programme is necessary to push its school's international ranking.
But should that be our challenge, when the country's rocketing medical expenses and import of medical technologies have not led to the populace's well-being?
Universities should be where the serious thinking for the common good is going on, shouldn't they?
When the country suffers from insufficient public health services and commercialisation of the medical profession, can universities offer anything better than a medical curriculum taught in English?
We need more physicians, yes. But we also need more physicians with a caring attitude and a willingness to communicate with patients. To achieve that, we need to improve their work environment so they can do their work properly.
We need to make people realise the importance of preventive health care. This does not simply mean sending people jogging or doing some exercises. We need to protect the environment. We need to stop dirty industries. We need to breed occupational health doctors who dare to challenge the polluters. We need to improve the standard of universal health care and make it equal for all. The list is endless - if we care to think for the good of the majority.
The problem of this English medical school programme is the same with many other problems that are plaguing our country.
It is all because we only care for money.
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