Middle Kingdom Adventures: Work Hard/Play Hard

Creative Commons photo from Flickr, by Rita Willaert.

Many of my friends have asked me, “What exactly are you doing in China?” I am fortunate to be able to split my five weeks in China between Beijing and Shanghai this summer on a health policy and clinical internship. For the past two weeks, I was at the Health and Development Institute based at the School of Policy and Management at Tsinghua University working on a project for the Chinese Ministry of Health.

One of the projects the Health and Development Institute is undertaking is examining lessons that can be learned from reforms in other countries. In April 2009, the Chinese government announced landmark guidelines for healthcare reform. Their goal was ambitious: providing universal health care services to the country’s 1.3 billion people. In just two years, China’s health care reform has provided basic health insurance to 1.27 billion Chinese or 95 percent of the country’s population. The portion I focused on was in regards to compensation mechanisms for doctors. In China, doctors often complain about being underpaid for the services they provide. Some doctors may take additional payment from patients for speedier treatments. As a result, they are subject to the whims of patients. In Chinese society, doctors are not as highly regarded as they are in the United States. Violence against doctors is pervasive. The Chinese government is interested in learning whether a new standard can be developed that can rationalize higher compensations for physicians. I was specifically examining the mechanisms for physician compensation in the United States and how it may be applied in China (e.g. what is the rationale for doctors to be compensated the amount they are? Is there an economic reason surgeons are compensated more than primary care physicians? If you are interested in reading more about this, I suggest starting with this seminal paper.

It was a wonderful two weeks, and I certainly learned a lot. It is an exciting time to be in the health policy field in China (and the United States). I also truly appreciated the chance to immerse myself in Chinese culture. It is the first time I have visited and lived in China on my own, and the first time I have spent more than three days outside of my hometown of Chengdu. It’s been an unforgettable few weeks in Beijing. For the rest of my time in China, I will be working at the Shanghai United Family Hospital.

The Alexander Booth fellowship allows graduating seniors to pursue a short-term project the summer after graduation (loosely defined) that are related to their academic interests. For rising seniors who are interested in pursuing this or other short-term postgraduate fellowships (including ones for purposeful travel), be sure to check out the list of fellowships on the OCS website. Most deadlines are in February and March.

Yuying Luo ’12 (yuying@post.harvard.edu) is en route to Shanghai. She is on the Alexander G. Booth ’30 Fellowship this summer in Beijing and Shanghai.