Proposal for third medical school revived
NTU and govt agencies in talks, as shortage of doctors grows more acute. -ST
By Amresh Gunasingham
SEVEN years after the idea was shelved, a proposal to set up a new medical school at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is being revived.
NTU Provost Professor Bertil Andersson told The Straits Times that discussions are again under way with government agencies.
'It is need-driven,' he said, explaining that the greying population and the need for medically trained researchers would make Singapore's chronic doctor shortage even more acute in coming years.
The cost of setting up the school and how many doctors will be trained is still being worked out, he said.
The Straits Times also understands that a senior faculty member from the famed Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute (KI) has been seconded to NTU as a special adviser on the project.
Back in 2002, an international panel reviewing medical education here urged the Government to set up a school at NTU - to produce another 100 doctors a year.
While other suggestions were taken up, like upping intake at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and setting up the Duke-NUS Graduate medical school to create more doctor-researchers, the Health Ministry decided there was no immediate need for a new medical school.
Earlier this week, however, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen said in Parliament that the Education and Health ministries (MOH) were working together to examine Singapore's medium and long-term health-care needs. One of the options being looked at is establishing another medical school in Singapore, he said.
Singapore aims to improve its doctor-to-patient ratio so that the health-care system can match that of other developed countries like the United States. The public sector currently employs 4,300 doctors, but there is a need for up to 600 more to be trained locally.
Measures like widening the net for foreign doctors by recognising more overseas medical schools have helped boost the number of doctors in the public sector by 39 per cent from 3,100 in 2004.
There are also plans to up intake at NUS from 260 to 300 in two years, while the Duke-NUS facility, whose inaugural class of 26 graduates in 2011, has doubled its intake to 50 students each year.
However, all this will not be enough, particularly with two new public hospitals adding another 1,256 beds by 2015.
Dr Fatimah Lateef, an MP for Marine Parade GRC, who raised the issue in Parliament this week, said a new medical school would give young people more opportunities to take up medicine, and help groom future clinical researchers.
'There is a big gap between the number of applicants each year to NUS and the number of places available.
'If it does materialise, a new school would enhance Singapore's reputation as an education hub and is something a lot of people would welcome,' she said.
Madam Halimah Yacob, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, however, called for a careful evaluation before embarking on what will be a multi-million dollar endeavour.
'Do we need another medical school if the question to address is merely increasing the supply of doctors?
'Or can we look at expanding the capacity of the present medical schools?'
NTU professors told The Straits Times said that a medical school at the university would be complemented by its strong engineering focus, allowing greater scope for research in the bioengineering field.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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