One in four doctors in Singapore’s public sector received their training overseas. A census in 2015 put this total number at 2,100. With majority of them being primary healthcare doctors, while 477 are specialists. Additionally, over 1,800 Singaporeans and Permanent Residents practicing in the public sector received their training overseas.

Shortage of doctors

Singapore’s current doctor to population ratio is 21 doctors per 10,000 capita, far behind that of other developed countries such as the United States and United Kingdom with ratios of up to 34 doctors per 10,000. Facing a shortage of medical staff has in recent years, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has begun to find new ways to supplement the existing pool of local graduates, including the recruitment of foreign trained doctors.

Recognising the shortage of doctors, in 2012, the Ministry of Education worked with the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine to admit more undergraduates. This, coupled with the opening of two more medical schools, helped to increase the output of local medical graduates. With Duke-NUS having 50 admissions per year, and a total of 460 students admitted National University Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2015, this has brought up the number of local graduates from just over 300 in 2015, to an expected 500 in 2018.

Insufficient graduates from local universities

The increased admissions into local medical schools have not been sufficient to fill the existing demand, especially since Lee Kong Chian’s first batch will only graduate in 2018. With over 150 foreign university degrees currently recognised by the Singapore Medical Council, the pool of doctors has widened to make up for the shortage of locals. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is also trying to attract locals who are currently studying abroad to return to work here through a Pre-Employment Grant. Introduced in 2010, the grant offers to pay up to $50,000 a year for the last three years of study, in exchange they serve in a public hospital for three to four years depending on their bond type. For some schools this can cover up to 60% of their annual fees, putting their fees at a level comparable to local counterparts.

Increasing healthcare demand due to an ageing population

Foreign trained doctors have to go through a period of “supervision” where they are observed by a fully registered local doctor to ensure their skills are up to mark to be allowed practice locally. This scheme by the MOH has helped to ensure the quality of doctors in Singapore and it also helps to assimilate foreign doctors to local context, where after the period of supervision some are attached to local nurses to help with translation and communication. Some even go on to become PRs or take up citizenship after a number of years.

With Singapore’s ageing population, it is projected that the demand for healthcare services will increase for most specialities and not just geriatrics. Although new community hospitals have been built to cope with the ageing population, it has been difficult to recruit senior staff to the hospital, including doctors. The MOH recently released that it will require an estimated 20,000 more staff by the year 2020. Additionally, with the threat of unfamiliar diseases of foreign origin, suitably qualified doctors may have to be brought in to fill the areas where local practitioners lack expertise in. MIMS


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