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    Beaten, stabbed and threatened: who’d want to be a doctor in China?
    Beaten, stabbed and threatened: who’d want to be a doctor in China?
    CHINA

    Beaten, stabbed and threatened: who’d want to be a doctor in China?

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    by
    Viola Zhou and Yujing Liu
    Viola Zhou and
    Yujing Liu
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    Long hours, heartache and loss: a doctor’s life has never been easy.

    But in China, being a doctor is even tougher. 

    On Wednesday, 50-year-old physician Zhao Xinbing was stabbed in the heart at a hospital in eastern China. 

    As in many other hospital attacks, the perpetrator appeared to be a patient's relative. 

    An argument started in the afternoon, when Dr Zhao was performing an endoscopy on a woman at Jing County Hospital in eastern Anhui province, according to a statement from the hospital. 

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    She complained about discomfort, and the doctor decided to cut the procedure short.

    The woman and her husband left, at first. But the husband, apparently still frustrated by the failed exam, soon returned to the clinic, where he allegedly plunged a knife into Dr Zhao's chest. 

    The man was arrested at the scene. The doctor died of blood loss four hours later. 

    Doctors at Jing County Hospital tried to rescue Dr Zhao before his death.
    Doctors at Jing County Hospital tried to rescue Dr Zhao before his death.

    Dr Zhao is the latest fatality in a spate of attacks against medical professionals in China. 

    While coping with low wages and heavy workloads, Chinese doctors must also bear the brunt of anger from patients as the country’s healthcare system comes under increasing strain.

    In one notorious case from 2012, physician Wang Hao, 28, was stabbed to death by a 17-year-old who was angered by the treatment he received in the northern city of Harbin.

    A memorial to Wang Hao, who was stabbed to death by a patient.
    A memorial to Wang Hao, who was stabbed to death by a patient. Photo: China Foto Press

    A year after the teenager was sentenced to life in prison, a patient in eastern Zhejiang province set upon doctors with a hammer and knife, killing a 42-year-old physician and injuring two others.

    The Zhejiang incident triggered a rare protest at the hospital, as medical staff demanded better security with signs reading “Uphold justice” and “Give me back my dignity.” 

    But the violence didn’t stop there. 

    In 2016 alone, attacks by patients or their relatives resulted in the deaths of a pediatrician, an orthopedist and two dentists.  

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    Doctors don't have time to listen to patients and explain things to them
    -
    Gordon Liu, Peking University

    In February 2017, an oncologist in the coastal province of Fujian suffered head injuries after a cancer patient attacked him with a hammer.

    And in November, a gastroenterology specialist in the northern province of Jilin died 19 days after being stabbed by a patient.

    Although the authorities have pushed for tougher sentences for people who attack medical staff, and have deployed police officers to protect doctors, verbal and physical abuse is still commonplace.

    People wait for medical treatment at Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai in July 2016.
    People wait for medical treatment at Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai in July 2016. Photo: Xinhua

    According to a Chinese Medical Doctor Association survey conducted in 2016 and 2017, 66% of the 146,000 doctors surveyed said they had suffered physical or verbal assaults from patients.

    And since 2016, a total of 7,816 people have been prosecuted for the crime of intentionally injuring medical staff or inciting crowds at hospitals. 

    Gordon Liu, an expert on China's healthcare system at Peking University, argues that many of these cases are born of an overburdened medical system that struggles to meet patients’ needs.

    “The problem is a lack of communication. Doctors don’t have the time to listen to the patients and explain things to them.”

    Liu has been advising the government on how to reform a system in which resources and talent has been concentrated in big, state-run hospitals for decades.

    Across China, patients visit these shopping mall-like hospitals to be treated for everything from a cold to cancer.

    The result is long lines, packed clinics and little time for doctors to spend with patients. 

    It is common for doctors to see more than 50 patients in one morning. That works out to less than four minutes per visit, leaving doctors with little time to provide explanations – or comfort.

    China's shopping-mall like hospitals.
    China's shopping-mall like hospitals. Photo: Xinhua

    Liu said people were more accepting of flaws in the health system in China’s leaner years, but rising incomes and better knowledge of services on offer in other countries have caused increasing discontent. 

    The government has promised to train 500,000 more general practitioners by 2030.

    But implementing this reform may prove tricky. Liu warns that the biggest public hospitals, facing political pressure to maintain their scale and influence, will be reluctant to give up any of their functions.

    Recruiting enough doctors may also prove to be a problem: as if the patient abuse and heavy workloads wasn’t bad enough, doctors are also poorly paid.

    Junior doctors in China earn an average of $9,160 a year, according to the Chinese Medical Doctor Association. In America, doctors rarely make less than $150,000 a year.

    Group 5
    Every now and then there was an attack. I felt it would one day happen to me
    -
    Yang Yan, doctor

    Chinese doctors often make less than IT workers, bankers or engineers working in the same city, making it hard for medical schools to attract top performers. 

    Some medical students and doctors are considering heading abroad, or even leaving the profession altogether.

    Dr Yang Yan, a Beijing native, remembers how he was shocked by the series of doctor’s deaths when he was studying medicine in the Chinese capital.

    “Every now and then there was an attack,” he said. “I felt it would one day happen to me.”

    The 27-year-old decided to head for America in 2017. After qualifying to practice medicine in the US, he is now a resident physician at St Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, Missouri.

    "It is like going from hell to heaven," he said. 

    Staff at Jing County Hospital mourn for the death of Dr Zhao on Thursday.
    Staff at Jing County Hospital mourn for the death of Dr Zhao on Thursday.

    Back in eastern China, doctors and nurses at Jing County Hospital were saddened by the death of their colleague. 

    The hospital statement showed medical staff posting pictures of black ribbons on social media, as they mourned Dr Zhao and prayed for the safety of all doctors and nurses in the country. 

    VIOLA ZHOU
    VIOLA ZHOU
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    Viola is a multimedia producer at Inkstone. Previously, she wrote about Chinese politics for the South China Morning Post.

    YUJING LIU
    YUJING LIU
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    Yujing is a contributor to Inkstone. She is also a reporter at the South China Morning Post.

    VIOLA ZHOU
    VIOLA ZHOU
    arrow rightarrow right
    Viola is a multimedia producer at Inkstone. Previously, she wrote about Chinese politics for the South China Morning Post.

    YUJING LIU
    YUJING LIU
    arrow rightarrow right
    Yujing is a contributor to Inkstone. She is also a reporter at the South China Morning Post.

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