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Whats up, doc?
作者:Raymond …    文章来源:X-Ray    点击数:176    更新时间:2016/12/14   

What's up, doc?

[CAI MENG/CHINA DAILY]

With an unusual display of riches, a medical professional calls into question public attitudes toward wealth and the need for better pay for his profession.

Ren Liming is a urologist with the Second People's Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan province. He was thrust into limelight when he posted a photo of a down jacket he just bought-with the eye-popping price tag of 10,000 yuan ($1,400).

Some were amazed by his flaunting of personal wealth. They thought people in the healthcare industry should keep a low profile because of the prolonged tension between doctors and patients in China.

Many doctors have been accused of taking cash gifts from patients or their families-to the point that they represent a significant part of their income.

Admittedly, Ren's expensive jacket, together with the revelation that he makes 1 million yuan a year, raised the suspicion that his lavish lifestyle is built on this so-called gray income.

Just as he was supposed to be shedding tears of regret over the outburst of vanity, Ren came forward and divulged more personal information to a local reporter.

He owns three properties and about one-fifth of his annual income, i.e. 200,000 yuan, is from his day job at that hospital, an amount that he spends on clothing alone.

He derives other income from online consulting and offline teaching, practicing medicine at other places and making healthcare-related investments.

The purpose of "spilling the beans", he says, is to instill pride in young professionals who are just entering the business. He says many of his peers in the top echelon make as much as he does, or even more.

He also addresses the sensitive topic of "gray income", saying that if your legal earnings are high enough you'd have no incentive to take bribes.

But I suspect that his real motive is to promote his businesses as well as his personal name. Now that he is the best-known urologist in the city, requests for consulting would go through the roof, I imagine.

Which is not wrong, albeit a bit unconventional. If so, Ren was exploiting the nation's hate-the-rich mentality for his own good.

Love them, hate them

China has come full circle from "To get rich is glorious" in the 1980s to "You'd better lie low if you're filthy rich because the whirlwinds of envy will sweep you away".

The internet has magnified the wealth gap, with websites incessantly hyping the lifestyles of the rich and then following it with blanket hatred of the high-profile demographic.

In recent years the voice of reason has appeared, arguing that the key is not how much wealth one has but how that wealth was accumulated, legally, ethically or not.

A tricky point of debate is the so-called original sin, which refers to the often less-than-upright way the first pot of gold was made, a "sin" that's said to tarnish most private entrepreneurs.

For many years Chen Guangbiao was China's most conspicuous spender. He would stack up a wall of bills and take photos with it. He claimed to be a big philanthropist, but has turned out to be a big showman who used philanthropy as a means to ingratiate himself into the circle of power.

I'm not discounting the desperate need for vanity that characterizes the nouveaux riche, but when the flaunting gets too tacky it indeed arouses suspicion that there is more than vanity at work.

Maybe someone of Guo Meimei's age would not think twice before posting expensive purchases made possible by a rich sugar daddy, but a mature entrepreneur would probably resist the temptation unless he or she is totally isolated from the internet culture.

Guo almost single-handedly ruined the reputation of the Red Cross when she gave herself a title affiliated with the organization and posted luxury items.

Rich doctors, poor doctors

I don't know how authentic Ren's report is that many of his peers make as much as he does.

A few years ago, I went on a trip to Africa with a dozen healthcare professionals who were to offer free medical services for treating cataracts. I learned firsthand that most of them did not make that much.

I did a little search and found a 2015 survey on Dxy.cn, a medical information site. It surveyed 30,000 doctors nationwide and concluded that the average annual salary was 77,000 yuan, and 74 percent of them were not satisfied with how much they earned.

If this figure is accurate and can be extrapolated to the whole country, it confirms my impression that doctors in China are far from being envied-not only compared with their counterparts in developed countries, but with professionals in other Chinese industries such as finance.

Considering the higher-than-normal investment in education and training, their incomes can be said to be on the lower end of the social spectrum.

The primary reason incomes of Chinese doctors do not reflect their status or market demand is that the rates of China's medical services are highly regulated.

It costs only a couple of yuan to see a doctor, so even if a doctor treats 100 patients a day it does not add to much.

To subsidize the cost of counseling, hospitals would add a heavy markup to the drugs prescribed.

The practice was rooted in the good intention of offering nearly free service to everyone, but it has led to less-than-desirable results.

For example, some people would flock to the best hospitals for something as innocuous as a common cold. Meanwhile, both patients and pharmaceutical sales representatives would dangle big bribes to doctors, which is the market's way to "correct" the reality of doctors being seriously underpaid.

Whenever there is a complaint against the medical profession, people narrate stories of American doctors as role models. But they tend to forget that American doctors are paid 15 times as much.

And it is pretty hard for anyone to keep up the good attitude if 100 patients are squeezed into one shift.

Everyone also wants free or nearly free healthcare that is also quality service, and few see the irony in it.

A government should help those in need, the poor who cannot afford expensive medical services. But if it makes healthcare affordable by artificially depressing the incomes of the profession, it is tantamount to driving away future talent from the industry.

In that sense, Ren has become an antidote even though his solution may not be applicable across the industry.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

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