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November 28, 2011

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Shortage of emergency doctors

SHANGHAI is suffering from a shortage of emergency doctors as demand for ambulances grows and medics quit due to tough working conditions.

The local ambulance service has seen calls increase by 10 to 15 percent annually in recent years - reaching 500,000 last year.

This is attributed to Shanghai's aging population putting growing pressure on the ambulance service.

Crews answering calls on the 120 emergency number include a doctor.

Shanghai had planned to increase the number of emergency doctors to 1,000 by the end of last year, but had only 579 as the deadline neared, according to a report issued by the Shanghai Medical Emergency Center yesterday.

And many emergency doctors quit after a year or two, due to "pressure of work, low income and poor career development," the report said.

The center recruited 359 doctors between 2007 and 2010, but 47 percent left in the same period.

Moreover, the number leaving each year is increasing, said the report.

Due to the high turnover, the emergency medical teams lack experienced doctors, say medics.

"Extensive experience helps doctors remain calm and make quick decisions in emergency situations," said Philippe Sun, who has worked as an emergency doctor for a decade.

The job is widely acknowledged as being physically and mentally demanding. Emergency doctors work 12-hour shifts and must always be ready to drop everything when a call comes in. On a busy shift, a meal can be interrupted three or four times.

In addition, families of patients often vent anger and frustrations on doctors if they arrive late. A number of the medics have been physically attacked. "Many of us suffer stomach ache, obesity and insomnia due to the irregular living pattern and pressure," Sun said.

However, Sun's pay is 4,000 yuan (US$628) to 5,000 yuan a month. Hospital doctors can earn two or three times as much. "I haven't seen any rise in my salary, except in the first year," Sun said.

"Many non-local doctors have left because of the money situation."

According to the center, 76.5 percent of doctors who left between 2007 and 2010 were non-locals. Many are discouraged by living costs here.

Another problem is that working as an emergency doctor is seen by many medics as a bad career move.

Ding Jia, a medical school postgraduate, said none of her classmates chose to work as an emergency doctor. She receives 3,000 yuan monthly as a junior doctor working at the intensive care unit at Renji Hospital, but she said she is acquiring new knowledge every day. "Ambulance doctors have no opportunity to deal with complex diseases, so it's not good for career development."

To tackle the shortfall, the emergency medical center has some hospital doctors work in ambulances before gaining promotion.


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