I’m pleased to report that our new United Family CBD community clinic is now open! Everyone in the neighborhood will love it; it’s exactly the type of warm and intimate community clinic you’d expect back at home. Before Beijing, I worked in a rural clinic amidst the vineyards of Sonoma, and it was just a few of us family doctors busily taking care of the townsfolk. It was very “Northern Exposure”-ish, and both the patients and the staff loved it.
We will have a family doctor every day along with pediatrics, ob/gyn, psychology, TCM and others. We have a fully stocked pharmacy and lab, and also we can give vaccines. That means parents can take their kids here for routine health checks and get the usual vaccines (it will still take another week or two to get the vaccines here).
It’s within these commmunity clinics that primary care really shines. Right here is exactly where a family doctor should be, and right here is where I will be, from now on. Unfortunately, this means I will no longer be seeing patients in Shunyi or the main campus in Lido. I apologize to my patients for this inconvenience. But I’m really excited about the CBD clinic’s potential, and I want to be the anchor at this clinic for the community, for many years to come. I will have a clinic here at least three days a week.
The clinic is extremely convenient for many, literally just across from Central Park and Chaowai SOHO, along the main street. We are in the Vantone Center, building AB, just above SPR Coffee. Just enter the AB main lobby and take the escalator up one level, we’re right there on the right. So please drop by, our hours are Monday through Saturday, 9:30am-6:30pm. Here’s the map and other info:
United Family CBD Clinic
Vantone Center, Building AB 2nd floor, Suite 3017, 6 Chaowai Street, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100020
Tel: +86 (10) 5907 1266
Fax: +86 (10) 5907 3306
How many of my readers have experienced both a local Chinese hospital and an international, “expat” hospital? The differences can be quite striking, and last week I had the honor of discussing some of those differences in a lively debate on CCTV News’ Crossover program. We mostly chatted about two specific cases in China, one regarding a migrant worker who had his newly-sutured hand unsutured by the nurse because he couldn’t pay his hospital bill. The second half revolved around a recent decree in Beijing that all public hospitals limit all patient lines to less than 10 minutes of waiting.
These two hot news stories touched upon a lot of larger issues about the pressures faced by both doctors and patients at local hospitals, and it provided much context in regards to comparisons with international clinics such as my hospital, Beijing United Family.
You can view the entire 30 minute Crossover broadcast below; if you cannot see the video, please click on this link here.
One of the most common questions I get from readers is more of a professional question from colleagues all over the world: how can I work as a doctor in China? I’ve answered so often via email that I decided to write a post about it, so here goes:
The bottom line is that it’s not too difficult to find work here in China. Or perhaps I should rephrase that: it’s not as impossible as it is in many countries; for example, you do not need to retake a residency program simply to work here. Nor do you need to know Chinese; that’s because you’re not allowed to work in a local Chinese hospital anyway, and you are restricted to the few dozen expat clinics and hospitals scattered around China’s largest cities. Usually English is the primary language at these sites.
It’s just a few simple steps:
- You contact all the expat clinics in your city of choice
- You get hired by an expat hospital or clinic
- They sponsor you to take the medical exam — in English
- Voila! That’s it.
OK, it’s not that simple, but let’s take me for example: five years ago, when I knew I was moving to Beijing, I cold-called and emailed all of the expat clinics in Beijing; I eventually interviewed and got hired to work in the clinic and continue what I always do — family medicine. I started immediately and soon took Beijing’s twice-a-year medical exam for foreign doctors. This exam was in English and consisted of a two hour written exam of 100 general medicine questions very similar to Step 3 of the USMLE boards; the second part was a 20 minute oral presentation — in English — of a sample patient. You read the case for 5 minutes and then nervously discuss your assessment and treatment plans in front of an intimidating (but nice) panel of three local superstar doctors. Then you nervously wait a few weeks to find out; even if you do not pass, which isn’t rare, it’s not a disaster. Similar to your boards exams in America and elsewhere, you usually can continue to work and take the test again in a year. Once you pass, you do not need to retake the test.
Specialists vs GPs
It’s much easier for a family medicine doctor to find work here, mostly because most expat clinics hire a lot more GPs than specialists. Specialists are limited to the few expat hospitals in China. My company, United Family Healthcare, runs China’s largest and most prestigious group of foreign-owned hospitals in China and continues to expand into new cities, and we are always looking for top doctors from all over the world. You can keep an eye on our Physician Openings page or also send your CV to the HR department.
What is the Practice Like, and How Much Will You Make?
Your medical practice here will be eerily similar to your practice at home; your office will have the same exam table with the equipment on the wall; kids get the same vaccines (mostly); patients will have the same illnesses (mostly acute and not chronic diseases). At the expat clinics, we all try to follow international standards of care, and you will get your usual 20-30 minute slots per patient.
Of course, you will have some culture shock, otherwise what’s the point of coming? The nurses are all Chinese as required by law, so you will find a lot of cultural differences from them. It will be fascinating and fun, but also frustrating. Also, local hospital care is very, very different from the expat clinics, and you will almost never see a local Chinese person without insurance, mostly because a local doc costs maybe 10RMB (less than $2) while a typical expat clinic visit is about what you’d pay in the US — around $100. You will see a lot of Chinese patients but these are the wealthy groups, or ones who have good insurance, likely from a foreign-owned company.
Speaking of money: in general, the expat clinics will offer primary care docs a salary range similar to the salaries in the US. It depends on your package and your clinic. Usually you get free health insurance from your own clinic.
Where To Find a List of Clinics?
Most expat clinics are in Beijing and Shanghai, with a few others scattered around top tier cities. To find the clinics, a simple Google search can help, but my favorite list is provided by the US Embassies; they have a list of expat clinics for Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu.
And On A Personal Note…
Come to China! It’s an amazing experience. Five years ago, I never thought I would leave my paradise lifestyle in Sonoma County, but I’m still here in Beijing and having the best adventures of my life.
After a bit of relaxation (Jiuzhaigou national park is spectacular), and a touch of Chinese language immersion (never enough), I have finally started work at my new family medicine clinic at Beijing United Family Hospital. Moving my practice to BJU is a very natural extension for me; in my four years taking care of children and families in Beijing, I have always considered BJU as the go-to place for any serious specialty or surgical consults, and I frequently sent sick patients to their emergency room.
So it was natural for me to join their excellent group of family medicine doctors, but what also sweetened the pot was their offer to give me a dual role as their new national Director of Clinical Marketing and Communications, to help all of their facilities with social media. I started writing this blog almost two years ago to fill a void in the Beijing community for easy to read, evidence-based health information, but I still feel that all the Beijing clinics can do a much better job online, providing their patients as well as the community much-needed advice on health issues. I hope I can help to satisfy this unmet need.
I hope that my long-term readers understand by now that I’ve worked hard to be very non-partisan and open-minded on this blog, and I absolutely want to continue having this “street cred” in the community. Having said that, I honestly feel that when it comes to regular primary care medicine, Beijing has a handful of clinics with excellent family doctors who can all easily take care of the bread-and-butter routine visits. But when it comes to serious illness, emergencies or surgeries, I continue to believe that BJU is the best choice in Beijing. Let’s put it another way: if I or my wife and loved ones were very sick, there’s only one place I would consider going to: BJU.
Also, many readers may not realize that BJU and their sister hospital in Shanghai have obtained international certification by the highly-esteemed gold-standard Joint Commission International; this is incredibly difficult and expensive to achieve but it ensures that the equipment, level of care and patient safety are absolutely top-notch.
If you want to see me in clinic, please call the main number at 5927.7000 for an appointment. I will have family clinics in their main hospital in Lido as well as at their clinic in Shunyi (Tuesdays and Saturdays) and at the new Liangma clinic, in the Grand Summit building next to the US Embassy (Thursdays). You can find clinic maps and other information at their main website at http://unitedfamilyhospitals.com/en/bj/.
How many of you have trouble finding such basic health items such as vaseline, epsom salts, heating pads and others? Well, you’re in luck; part of my clinic’s major renovations this year has involved upgrading our pharmacy to provide a more Walgreens-style consumer-friendly service, and I’m happy to report that we now carry a lot more practical yet hard to find non-prescription items. Ricola cough drops, epsom salts, heating pads, Vaseline, salt water saline spray — all these and many other useful OTC items are now available all over Beijing. Here are my favorites:
Heating Pads from Japan. This is my favorite new product! Those of you with aches and pains are likely familiar with the very common Chinese skin patches, usually soaked in a mentholatum-type oil, which provide some relief to sore muscles. Those can be ok, but sometimes all you need is a good heating pad — and our Kobayashi heating pads, newly imported from Japan (i.e., good quality) work wonders for at least 15 hours. We docs here love them! I tried one on my lower back during a recent cold and loved that continuous warmth all day. Many women find great relief from their menstrual cramps by keeping one on their lower belly. And there’s no problem with skin rashes — they attach to your clothes, not your skin. Plus, they’re incredibly simple; you simply peel off the top and it warms up in 10 minutes.
Ricola sugar-free herbal cough drops. There are a lot of sore throat lozenges on the market, but my favorite was always Ricola, which has a nice assortment of sugar-free lozenges that have a refreshing taste along with their herbal mixture. They do just as good a job as other lozenges, which means they work ok but not great. My clinic pharmacist finally gave in to my pleading and found Ricola’s joint venture product, which we now stock in the pharmacy. All fans of Ricola can drop by any time and pick up a can.
Epsom salts. Otherwise known as magnesium sulfate salt, epsom salts are famous for decreasing swelling and aiding achy joints. You can throw in a few tablespoons into a bath to soothe your joints and muscles; into a foot soak to aid achy, cold feet; or in a sitz bath to take away hemorrhoid swelling and pain. I’ve previously mentioned the wonders of a warm foot soak machine in the winter.
Our pharmacy also has a few other OTC products that may be hard to find at local stores:
- Petroleum jelly (AKA Vaseline), very effective for the most serious cases of winter dry skin
- Medilac-S and Medilac-Vita, an excellent formulation of probiotics to help kids and adults during diarrhea, irritable bowel episodes, and other uses
- Salt water nasal sprays, for kids and adults, as a healthy way to clean the nose during the all-too-common bouts of colds and flu
- Mentholatum ointment (AKA Vicks VapoRub), to rub into those achy or cold muscles
All these and many others are available without prescription or doctor’s visits; just drop on in and say hello to one of our friendly pharmacists.