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Foreign-trained doctors barred from government employment

Two dozen recently graduated Cambodian specialised doctors who obtained their degrees abroad are contesting the Ministry of Health’s decision to bar them from working as full-time government employees on the grounds that their degrees are not equivalent to domestic medical degrees.

Sreng Houng, who said he received his ophthalmologist degree in Vietnam, yesterday asked Prime Minister Hun Sen on his Facebook page to intervene. In his post, Houng said the 24 students had received scholarships from the Ministry of Education 10 years ago to pursue medical degrees in various countries, such as Vietnam, China, Malaysia and the US, and had obtained specialisations including gynaecology, oncology and surgery.

“We are very . . . disappointed,” he said. “We have struggled and have overcome many tests . . . and we have spent 10 years of studies.”

Hun Sen replied to Houng’s post by saying he had forwarded the request to Health Minister Mam Bunheng for review, but hours later, the response was deleted.

While the students were educated abroad, the quality of Cambodian-trained health professionals is very much a subject of debate, and Cambodian doctors’ skills and ethics have come under repeated fire in recent months.

Cambodian-American doctor Mengly Quach – himself a vocal critic of the Kingdom’s health-care sector – yesterday questioned why the government would have sent the students abroad if it wouldn’t later accept their degrees. While he acknowledged that testing applicants’ abilities was important, he also noted that Cambodia has an “extreme shortage of health providers”.

Chheng Kannarath, deputy secretary-general at the Medical Council of Cambodia, said Cambodian students who graduate overseas are required to submit a diploma to the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Health to assess its equivalency.

Health Minister Bunheng didn’t respond to requests for comment as to whether the applicants’ degrees had been assessed, and ministry spokesman Ly Sovann would only say that the ministry “recruits all health professionals who fulfil the degree because health is a business that needs real skills”.

Houng claims the ministry on August 1 said their degrees were not equivalent because they had not been educated based on the French system.

Mengly, however, said it would be “very out of line” if students had been told that because medical education is a “universal language”.

Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro

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