Government-sponsored medical students should be allowed greater flexibility when transferring between hospitals, labor rights advocates said yesterday, calling for reforms to bring transparency to the process of matching hospital with students and a guarantee that students’ skills are put to full use.
“We are completely in the dark as to how the Ministry of Health and Welfare decides that a particular hospital needs more specialists and matches it with a specific government-sponsored medical student,” State-Financed Medical Student Self-Help Working Group member Chen Hung-wei (陳泓維) said.
“Student doctors who are dermatologists have been asked to work in the emergency room or psychiatrists have been asked to work in internal medicine, and these are not isolated cases or helping out once or twice. The norm is sending government-sponsored medical students to where no one else will go,” he added.
The students are required to work for six years in remote areas after graduation in exchange for government scholarships covering their school tuition.
“Asking a specialist to work outside his specialty is like asking a French chef to make sushi — even if he can throw something together, you cannot have high expectations,” Chen said, adding that the students are routinely forced to work longer hours for lower wages than other doctors working at the same hospitals.
Unclear standards about transfers give hospitals a de facto veto power over employment prospects, he said.
“The Ministry of Health and Welfare says that we have to be prepared to serve everyone, but the issue is that we are being told to perform tasks for which we have absolutely no training, and this endangers patient safety,” group member Tai Mang-fan (戴夢凡) said, voicing the group’s demands that the ministry ban cross-specialty assignment, mandate equal pay for equal work, loosen transfer rules and build an effective system for appealing labor standard breaches.
“We have a willingness and passion to serve in remote areas, but we hope that the ministry will create a more transparent system that guarantees our rights,” said first-year medical student Wu Mang-lun (吳孟倫), adding that his cohort had only been provided with scholarships after enrollment, with substantial changes to contract terms previously announced online.
The ministry should ensure that the number of possible hospital placements is greater than the number of government-sponsored students to make hospitals compete for the students’ services, he said.
Department of Medical Affairs Senior Executive Officer Liu Yu-ching (劉玉菁) said the ministry has established a committee, including members of the students’ self-help group, to discuss reforms.
The ministry has opened up the hospital-matching process to give students greater flexibility and will also require hospitals to provide information on salary and working conditions before students fill out their assignment preferences, she said, adding that students will be able to apply to the ministry directly for transfers to other hospitals.
“We assign students based on their area of specialization, so there should not be a situation in which someone from internal medicine is assigned to a surgery unit,” she said. “However, people need to understand that a major difference between remote areas and cities is that remote hospital divisions are not as specialized.”