context: Beijing has reckoned with a talent shortage in the healthcare system amid growing demand for medical products and services. To step up workforce supply, in quantity and quality, the National Health Commission (NHC) released a plan to train more medical professionals across the healthcare sector. As part of the ambitious ‘Healthy China 2030’ strategy announced in 2016, how the initiatives under the new plan will keep pace with the broader reform agenda remains to be seen.

Issued this month, the ‘14th 5-year plan for healthcare “talent” training’ aims to tackle the talent crunch faced by the healthcare system, 21st Century Business Herald reports. The supply of medical specialists has been lagging behind the demand, not least because it takes years of rigorous training to become a doctor—a marathon that not many can complete. According to statistics from NHC, in 2021 the total number of visits to hospitals increased by 56 million compared to last year while general practitioners per ten thousand population remained at 3.08. The understaffing highlights the need to ramp up the supply of medical practitioners, which is a key agenda of the new plan.

Quantity aside, the plan also pledges to enhance the competence of medical specialists, who are expected to be

  • innovative personnel with multi-faceted skills
  • scientists with strategic insights into the medical industry
  • leading experts in clinical medicine

These attributes are outlined against the backdrop of the recent development in the healthcare industry that has been witnessing further integration between R&D and production. Experts in clinical medicine are in high demand as pharmaceutical companies are looking for breakthrough innovations to compete in the global market. For domestic pharma, another urgent task is to attract all-around professionals capable of launching new products based on clinical trials.

With China’s pharmaceutical market burgeoning in recent years, domestic medicine enterprises seek more talent from overseas. According to Liu Lihe 刘立鹤 China Insights Consultancy consulting director, Chinese biotech companies need to recruit overseas specialists in different stages of the drug development process—this is crucial for transforming them into biopharma enterprises. Regardless of where talented individuals are recruited, the biopharma industry expects candidates to have strong professional expertise, international work experience and a rich understanding of the pharmaceutical industry in China, says Dong Huihui 董慧慧 Grant Thornton China partner. So far, few already skilled individuals can fulfil the expectations, she adds.