BEIJING, Dec 17 – Med school students who once dreamed of healing the sick and rescuing the dying are reconsidering their job options, as a spate of attacks targeting doctors have led them to fear that they could be targeted as well.
A report in the China Youth Daily has illustrated the jitters medical students are feeling following two recent hospital attacks that left one doctor and a head nurse dead and several others injured.
Zhang Yan, a clinical medicine student at Fudan University, still considers practicing medicine to be a worthy goal.
“The meaning of life lies in serving the people,” he said.
Zhang, however, found that curing sickness is no simple matter after interning at local hospitals.
“It’s not only your expertise that matters. Your communication skills with different people also count,” he said, adding that he believes a lack of trust between doctors and patients has led to worsening relations.
Long waiting times, brief appointments and a lack of quality care and attention have led some patients to seek “a life for a life,” attacking doctors and hospital staff who they believe have wronged them or their loved ones.
In one of the most notorious attacks, a teenager fatally stabbed an intern and injured three others at a hospital in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, last March.
It is a stark departure from the ideal situation in which “doctors and patients become battle companions and stay in the same trench, fighting their common enemies,” said neurosurgeon Zhou Liangfu from Huashan Hospital, which is affiliated with Fudan University.
Peng Yuwen, a professor at the Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, said doctor-patient tensions can erode medical workers’ morale and their willingness to take risks.
“Risk-taking is the most noble trait of a doctor, while tensions between doctors and patients can only create overcautious doctors, which in turn does harm to the patients,” Peng said.
“If doctors don’t dare to take risks when the patients are in a critical moment of life or death, it means they are giving the patients up,” he said.
Medical students and rookie medical practitioners are weighing their options, swaying between staying or leaving.
As a doctor who still conducts clinical rotations in Beijing, doctor Li Yifu earns a monthly salary of less than 3,000 yuan (about $480).
Zhou Liangfu, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said young doctors suffer from meagre pay, which has led some med students to switch to related but different fields after graduating.
Zhou usually tells his students that practicing medicine means letting go of materialistic needs and not thinking about how much money one can make.
“They need to endure hardship and hone their skills first,” Zhou said.
But for some who cannot stand to wait too long, this life and death hardship is wearing them out.
Medical schools are receiving students with lower college entrance exam grades compared with several years ago. This has led some schools to lower their enrolment thresholds, allowing students with below-average marks to attend prestigious medical schools.
In China’s competitive national college entrance exam system, it is a signal that fewer top students have chosen to practice medicine.
This means the public may risk getting treatment from second-class students in the future.
“I do not object to top students going into finance or turning into civil servants, but if the best students can’t become doctors or medical professors, it is a tragedy for our nation,” Peng said.