SINGAPORE intends to 'fully exploit' the lack of internship places for foreign medical students in Australia in order to convince more graduate doctors to come and work here.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday described Australia's shortage as 'an opportunity'. He added: 'We have training places. We welcome applicants, especially returning Singaporeans.'
But he said locally-trained graduates will have no problems getting a place, and there is still room to accommodate more students.
The Straits Times reported on Tuesday that foreign medical graduates in Australia may miss out on internship places in the country's hospitals, which will leave them unable to practise there. The development comes as Singapore faces a high demand for doctors.
Asked whether the Australians had talked to the ministry about internship arrangements, Mr Khaw said at least one medical school dean has expressed an interest in collaborating with Singapore. The minister added that he views this as a 'recruitment exercise'.
Mr Khaw compared it to Singapore's recent success in attracting those who trained in Britain. Speaking at an event in Woodlands, he said this success was down to 'various European Union rules which favour, for example, East Europeans rather than Asians', adding: 'So I just roll out the red carpet.'
The demand for doctors is set to stay high with the opening of Jurong General Hospital in 2014. A third medical school, a tie-up between Nanyang Technological University and Imperial College London, is set to start in 2013 to boost the number of local doctors.
Meanwhile, Australia's internship shortage is set to worsen next year, when two schools' first batches of medical students graduate. Graduates there must complete a year of internship with an authorised hospital before being allowed to gain medical accreditation.
Singaporean medical students who cannot get places could still face problems even if they want to come back to Singapore to take up internships.
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) at One North Buona Vista
This is because, having been out of the country for several years, they may lack the appropriate contacts and knowledge of which specialities to apply for.
Some are calling for the Singapore authorities to help them secure internship placements here. One of them, Ms Whitney Chua, 22, feels places should be 'guaranteed to all medical graduates'.
Mr Quak Zhi-xuan, 25, a final year student at Monash University and president of student group the Singapore Medical Society of Victoria (SMSV), said such measures to help graduates who had studied abroad would make their decision to return here much easier. To push for the authorities to take more action, the SMSV is forming a new student association, the Singapore Medical Society, which will include Singaporean medical students across Australia. There are 500 to 750 Singaporean medical students in Australia.
Canadian Aaron Wong, 24, a final-year student at the University of Melbourne, is keen to take up an internship in Singapore. But if he wishes to return to Australia to practise medicine, he will need to take an extra exam. This barrier, he feels, is something that the Singapore authorities can help get removed.
The Health Ministry said there are currently 30 house officers who studied in Australia working here.