by MICHAEL WOODHEAD
In Guilin’s main children’s hospital this New Year there were only three doctors on call to cover more than 30 beds for children – and a long waiting list – around the clock. Last year there were seven doctors but four have resigned.
Doctors at the hospital say there is a vicious circle – as more paediatricians resign, the pressure on the remaining doctors gets worse, and the speciality becomes even less attractive to other medical graduates. Speaking to local media, paediatricians say there problem is an increasing one for the whole of China. Paediatrics is an unpopular branch of medicine that finds few takers.
One of the reasons is the low income compared to other branches of medicine – paediatricians don’t get the opportunity to make extra bonuses or commissions from surgical operations, prescribing drugs or providing medical devices.
Secondly there is the intolerable pressure from pushy parents of Little Emperors. Children with only minor illness are brought in by neurotic parents who demand attention and excessive or inappropriate treatment for their child. Doctors working with children say their parents and grandparents can be obnoxious – expecting immediate treatment and instant miracles for their spoiled child. This often leads to abuse, disputes, complaints and legal action between doctors and families.
Thirdly, paediatricians also struggle with what they call the “dumb patient” problem – unlike adults, children cannot explain their problem well, and therefore doctors need much greater clinical skills to be able to diagnose their illness.
The low income, high pressure and lack of respect means that paediatricians get little satisfaction from their work. Not surprisingly, many vote with their feet and leave.
The lack of child specialists means that the remaining doctors face 12 hour shifts every day – and have to work as many as 10 night shifts a month. Paediatricians are already exhausted and demoralised – and they expect the situation to become even worse as two child regulations come into effect in 2016.