Monday, March 17, 2008

Missing the bigger picture in Japan reporting

It is not unusual for reporting out of Japan to leave out the bigger picture. It's a theme I have harped on about for a long time. But, here is another example.

Japan, like many other countries, has problems with its health system. One mutually shared problem is a shortage of trained staff (specialists, doctors and nurses). For Japan, the problem is made more acute because of the need to be medically fluent in the Japanese language.

Where Australia, for example, can and does import medical staff from a LIMITED number of other countries, it does require such people to have English language skills. Australia also requires that people who work in its medical system must have been trained in medical systems that are similar in nature to Australia's.

But, when Japan's medical problem is reported on, in English, the "solution" offered always seems to suggest that if only Japan allowed more foreigners to work in Japan's medical system all would be well.

But doctors have often complained that it has kept their salaries stagnant even though specialists would earn lucrative incomes overseas. Unlike in some Western countries that welcome medical professionals from abroad, the gap in Japan cannot be filled by foreigners. Japan has virtually no foreign doctors due to strict immigration rules, although it took the landmark step in 2006 of allowing in a limited number of nurses from the Philippines.

The restrictions in Japan are logical. Medical staff who cannot speak the language or who are not medically trained in a manner similar to those they are working with (or to the same standard) would obvioulsy be a problem.

The Japanese language is difficult to master, particularly at the level required to complete medical examinations within Japan. In addition, there IS a growing shortage of medical staff worldwide. Given that English is the lingua franca it is far more likely a medico with the inclination to settle and practice in another country may be inclined to focus his/her efforts on a language that can be used in many locations, rather than only one.

Of course, the Japanese government, can and does offer incentives for people to study in Japan, taking the long route towards medical proficiency, and see that as a good opportunity.

But, the throw away suggestion that Japan should "change its immigration rules" and that this would be the simple fix needed is, well, illinformed at best.

Even if Japan were to feel the situation was so dire it needed to provide 24X7 interpretation/translation coverage for imported foreign doctors, the country would be very hard pressed to find adequately trained medical staff to fill its surgeries. Advanced nations everywhere are doing all they can to lure medical staff to their shores.

The problem is far more complex -- and the reporting should reflect that.

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