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Longitudinal study of rural health workforce in five counties in China: research design and baseline description

04 May 2013

Background:
The village doctors have served rural residents for many decades in China, and their role in rural health system has been highly praised in the world; unfortunately, less attention has been paid to the health workforce during the ambitious healthcare reform in recent years. Therefore, we conducted a longitudinal study to explore the current situation and track the future evolution of the rural healthcare workforce.
Methods:
The self-administered structured Village Clinic Questionnaire and Village Doctor Questionnaire, which were modified from the official questionnaires of the Ministry of Health, were constructed after three focus groups, in-depth interviews in Hebei Province, and a pilot survey in Sichuan Province. Using a stratified multistage cluster sampling process, we gathered baseline data for a longitudinal survey of village doctors, village clinics from Changshu County, Liyang County, Yongchuan District, Mianzhu County, and Jingning County in China in 2011. Well-trained interviewers and strict procedures were employed to ensure the quality of this survey. Descriptive and correlation analyses were performed with Stata 12.0.
Results:
After four months of surveying, 1,982 Village Doctor Questionnaires were collected, and the response rate was 88.1%. There were 1,507 (76.0%) male and 475 (24.0%) female doctors, with an average age of 51.3 years. The majority of village doctors (58.5%) practiced both western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and 91.2% of the doctors received their education below college level. Their practice methods were not correlated with education level (P = 0.43), but closely related to the way they obtained their highest degree (that is, prior to starting work or as on-the-job training) (P < 0.01). The mean income of the village doctors was 1,817 (95% CI 1,733 to 1,900) RMB per month in 2011; only 757 (41.3%) doctors had pensions, and the self-reported expected pension was 1,965 RMB per month.
Conclusions:
Village doctors in rural China are facing critical challenges, including aging, gender imbalance, low education, and a lack of social protection. This study may be beneficial for making better policies for the development of the health workforce and China’s healthcare reform.

Date: 
4 May 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in Human Resources for Health