Culture, medicine and politics

4 04 2010

PPT has to admit some surprise in reading the report in the Bangkok Post (5 April 2010) regarding graduating medical doctor placements this year. The Ministry of Public Health has increased incentives for graduating medical practitioners to go to the south. However, the response on the northeast appears to carry deep political (and cultural) meaning. Most of those who get into medical schools hail from major urban centers and have a Sino-Thai ethnic background. Its been that way for decades.

Medical graduates are required to draw lots for the provinces where they will serve their rural internship. It seems that the “problem of doctor shortages in the Northeast has become more serious than ever.” According to the Post story, “there are 30,681 doctors serving an estimated 65 million population. Most of them work in urban areas. The proportion of doctors to patients per population in the Northeast is 1:5,300, compared to 1: 3,300 in the South and 1:850 in Bangkok.”

Surachat Chuaychob, a Prince of Songkla University medical graduate, drew a lot which required him to work at Si Sa Ket hospital for just three months before returning to serve the rest of his internship in his hometown of Nakhon Si Thammarat. “Dr Surachat said he had never been to the northeastern province before, but hoped he would be able to cope with the harsh environment and cultural differences.”

A Dr. Pasakorn, who was invited to coach new doctors, was born and raised in Bangkok, and “said difficulties to fit into different cultures and environments were also factors which make the Northeast unpopular with new doctors born and raised in urban areas like him.”

There was a time, during the last couple of decades of the 20th century, when service in the northeast was seen as part of a development task, and many of the doctors there were active in development projects and many were politically active. It now seems that the “cultural divide” is too great. Or is this just another reflection of the political divide?

Most medical doctors are now heavily influenced by royalism and populate the yellow-shirted side of politics. Are they punishing northeasterners for their support of Thaksin Shinawatra and the red shirts? Maybe not, but the idea that the cultural divide is getting wider deserves attention.


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8 04 2010
Yellow academics « Political Prisoners in Thailand

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