Singapore’s main source of doctors is local schools, supplemented with foreign hires to ease hospital workload

SINGAPORE: Local medical schools continue to be Singapore’s main source of doctors but the country also supplements its recruitment with foreign doctors to ease the workload in hospitals, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament on Monday (Nov 7).

The top five countries that Singapore recruits foreign doctors from are India, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, he added.

Dr Puthucheary was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Don Wee (PAP-Chua Chu Kang), who asked whether the Health Ministry would consider expanding the local medical school intake, and where Singapore’s foreign doctors are recruited from.

Over a period of 10 years, Singapore’s medical schools increased their combined intakes by around 60 per cent, from around 320 in 2010 to 510 in 2019, said Dr Puthucheary.

He noted that the schools admitted another 40 medical students each year in 2020 and 2021 to cater to students whose overseas medical studies were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to doctors from medical schools here, about 200 locals who study or practise medicine overseas are drawn back to Singapore annually. 

Most of them studied in Australia, the United Kingdom or Ireland, said Dr Puthucheary.

“In addition, we supplement recruitment with qualified doctors from recognised universities from other countries, to ease the workload in specific departments and hospitals,” he added.

The parliamentary question came about a month after MOH Holdings (MOHH), the holding company of Singapore’s public healthcare clusters, said that more than 90 per cent of its doctors are local.

MOHH was responding to media queries after a recent tender it issued on recruiting doctors from India sparked debate online. 

According to tender documents, the plan was to recruit 60 medical officers from India per year from now until 2024, with the option of a one-year extension.

MOHH said in a statement that its priority is to recruit locals from the medical schools recognised by the Singapore Medical Council.

There are three medical schools in Singapore – the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore, and the Duke-NUS Medical School.

On Monday, Dr Puthucheary said that the attrition rate of doctors in the public healthcare sector is acceptable, ranging from 3 to 5 per cent from 2019 to 2021.

“We continue to make various efforts to retain our doctors within the public healthcare sector,” he added.

Responding to another question from Mr Wee about whether MOH can work with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to increase local medical school intake for polytechnic graduates, Dr Puthucheary said a framework is already in place to look at the standards required to enter medical school as well as full practice. 

“Whether those standards for medical students should be altered in some way, I think you’d agree with me that it shouldn’t,” he said.

“We do have to make sure that the people who go into medical school have the aptitude, the attitude, the ability to not just complete their studies but have the ability to do well,” he said.

“There are polytechnic graduates who are making it into medical school … I think the importance is that they have met those standards and then, are able to flourish within the medical school and they have a fulfilling career,” he said, adding that MOH will continue to study the matter.