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.