Health workers are not receiving what they deserve

January 10, 2022 | 06:20 pm PT
Quan The Dan Doctor
Corruption in the medical field stems from the unmet needs of its workers. Eradicating it requires abolishing inequality and giving health workers the wages they deserve.

In the summer of 1982, we finished our fifth year at the Hanoi Medical University. We were supposed to be allotted our specialization when entering the sixth year.

It was a busy and exciting time since the choice of specialization would dictate our career as a doctor for a lifetime.

The day our class leader announced the list of assigned departments, I was devastated: I had signed up for a clinical department, but was assigned to a paraclinical one instead.

I told my father about what happened. He did not say anything for a while, and then told me to go with him somewhere that night.

He took a bag of tea and we went to the house of the teacher in charge of assigning students their departments. It turned out they had been classmates in college.

"I don't want to bother you, but please let my son enter a clinical department so that I could pass down my knowledge to him," my father said.

The teacher replied, "If you want your son to follow in your footsteps, I will let him enter the department he desires."

A few days later I learned I had been moved to the department I desired. I eventually studied in many more departments, but was forever grateful for the decision my teacher made back when I was 23.

Nowadays medical students can choose their specialization, a boon we never had in the past.

That was a story from 40 years ago. Back then all it took was a bag of tea for a favor, and people were willing to help each other out as equals. Doctors were among the most valued members of society back then. But it might no longer be the case now.

I went on to work in many hospitals and positions before retiring. Despite the medical community’s numerous achievements over the years, I feel that doctors' standing in society has diminished over time.

Some might blame changing circumstances, but I think the true culprit is inequality.

While some people keep getting richer and accumulate more and more wealth, the majority of health workers only earn a low to medium income.

2021 was a strange year. Never has the world faced such a challenge in the form of a pandemic, exposing both its best and worst sides.

As hundreds and thousands of health workers marched to the frontlines to fight the coronavirus, some issues began to rise to the surface.

There has always been a silent disease in the medical field, but it became ever more apparent amid the global health crisis. That disease is corruption and the problems caused by management that is too slow to adapt to changing times.

Corruption can be in the form of financial incentives or straight-up bribery when drugs and medical equipment are purchased or when people seek employment.

Recently an official was found to have received bribes of tens of billions of dong, and others have been forced to return the bribes they received in the past.

It is true that corruption should be eradicated for the betterment of society. But there are people who argue that such "financial incentives" have allowed things to go smoothly and kept the wheels turning.

I believe the system needs to change so that corruption would no longer be a necessity for that.

Low wages cannot keep people motivated, and is often the underlying cause of corruption. Once one gets used to the idea of abusing their power to secure their interests without repercussions, they would keep doing so.

The truth is that we have been paying our doctors and nurses too little as we believe the general populace would benefit if the outlay on health workers is low. But that is far from the truth. A service is only as good as the rewards that come with it, and who wants low-quality health services that might be the difference between life and death?

A fresh graduate from medical school typically gets around VND3 million a month, a veteran doctor with a decade of experience gets VND6 million, and the head of a medical station, at the time of retirement, gets VND8 million.

I am not even broaching the subject of delays in paying salaries that force many of my colleagues to take up second, and even third, jobs just to get by.

We need a system overhaul right now to address this. Health workers deserve an upper-middle income, and those with talent should be allowed to flourish and increase their incomes commensurately.

The field of medicine has much to do to erase its tarnish. But improved and transparent management would make the job much easier.

*Quan The Dan is a doctor at the Becamex Binh Duong Covid-19 Intensive Care Field Hospital. The opinions expressed are his own.

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