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China's Pediatric Shortfall

China needs to attract more doctors and medical students to the pediatric profession or risk a severe shortfall in care

By Zhang Qingchen Updated Jan.12

Early in January a picture of a notice posted at Tianjin Haihe Hospital's pediatric clinic saying there were no pediatricians available was circulated online. The reason for the notice, local news outlet Tianjinwe.com reported, was that many doctors had all become ill due to overwork. Some similar cases have stirred controversy this past year and exposed a shortage of pediatricians in China, according to the Guangdong-based news portal www.xxsb.com.

A white paper released by the Chinese government in May 2017 showed China lacks a sufficient number of pediatricians because they are generally paid poorly compared with those in adult medical departments. As a result, many pediatrics graduates do not actually go into practice. 

The news site proposed pediatrician salaries be increased. Perverse incentives in China's medical system mean the fact that drug doses are lower for children than adults sees pediatricians receive a lower bonus for prescribing drugs than doctors who treat adults, regardless of how many patients they see. Furthermore, paediatric diagnostic work can be harder because children generally have more difficulty accurately describing their symptoms. 

Incentives should be provided to attract more student doctors into pediatrics, the xxsb article says. Medical institutions, including community health organizations, should increase their pediatric resources. And the problem of parents needing to travel to large public hospitals in search of a department of pediatrics must be addressed. 

Another way to solve the problem is to empower parents with basic medical knowledge, so they know what to do when their child has a minor illness. In the digital era, it is feasible to use hotlines and online consultation services to help parents care for their children at home.