An operating room at Kunming Medical School in Yunnan Province, southern China. Dr. Cai Chaoliang, a young doctor from rural China, has been assisting during a complicated surgical procedure under the supervision of an experienced surgeon.
He is one of 10,000 medics who have been given a chance to pursue post-graduate training here for three months as part of the “Go West” program initiated by the Chinese Health Ministry and Bayer HealthCare. The program is designed for doctors in western China, where the provision of health care in the poor provinces in this region is often inadequate. There is a lack of well-trained doctors in rural areas, in particular, and the few small hospitals which do exist generally don’t have the money to buy modern equipment. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people’s life expectancy is therefore substantially lower and child mortality is higher in rural areas than in China’s cities.
Dr. Cai’s specialist fields are traumatology and orthopedics, and he normally works in a hospital in Pu Er City where he looks after the victims of serious accidents. While he is studying at the Medical School his aim is to learn how to help these people more effectively despite the adverse circumstances. He helps to perform surgery whenever possible, and in his spare time he studies his medical books.
I’ve learned so much. And this will benefit the people back home!
“Because of the poor infrastructure in our region,” he says, “many people are unable to reach the larger hospitals. We need to be able to help these patients at our small clinic. The treatment methods here will enable me to make a contribution to reaching this goal, because much of what I am learning is by no means standard at our hospital.”
Dr. Li Jianhong, a specialist in internal medicine and pediatrician, took part in the “Go West” program and was able to learn more about the therapy of babies in a department of neonatal medicine.
She also learned how to improve communication with patients and, not least, worried parents, making it easier to discuss findings with them and to give behavioral guidance in a way that will be easily understood. The many people who come to the County Hospital in the provincial town of Wuding are now benefiting from her experience. Dr. Li heads the pediatric unit at the hospital. Her little patients often travel for several days before they reach the hospital as their parents have to bring them on foot from the surrounding mountain villages.
The number of patients attending the hospital is growing all the time, something that makes Dr. Li very happy. “Many women used to give birth at home,” she explains, “but now more and more are coming to the hospital to deliver. That enables us to help many babies quickly in an emergency.”
The professors at the Medical School can also be consulted after the young doctors have finished their three months of training and provide advice in difficult cases. Dr. Li explains, for example, that there was previously nothing they could do at the Country Hospital for babies with gastrointestinal bleeding. Close collaboration with the experts in Kunming has since enabled them to discharge many such cases in good health. There has also been a fundamental improvement in the therapy of yellow fever, not least because training has taught the doctors to recognize the disease much sooner than before.
“Go West”: A program for 10,000 doctors
The aim is for the “Go West” program to provide 10,000 doctors from rural areas with post-graduate medical training. Bayer HealthCare is increasing its sponsorship of the project, and will have invested the equivalent of a further US$ 3.09 million by 2017.
By the end of 2011 some 3,500 doctors and more than 3,000 hospital executives had taken advantage of the program. “We are delighted that a growing number of patients in the rural parts of China have access to high-quality health care without needing to go abroad,” explained Bayer CEO Dr. Marijn Dekkers at the ceremony to mark the extension of the sponsorship agreement. “This is why it is a great pleasure for us to continue this pioneering project.”
Like the other participants in the “Go West” program, Dr. Li has already passed on her new-found knowledge to many of her colleagues. In this way the program is reaching many more doctors than have actually participated in Kunming – a snowball effect with a lasting impact.