Two very clear health-related trends are discernible in Hong Kong. Firstly, in common with other developed societies, statistics show that the population is ageing and that the local community will have to learn to adjust accordingly. Secondly, people in general are becoming ever more health-conscious and are now aware that regular check-ups and prompt treatment are the best way to stay in peak condition.
Together, these factors mean that medical and healthcare services will come under increasing pressure in the coming years and that trained professionals in the sector will be much in demand.
Working for one division of the largest local healthcare group, David Cheung, human resources manager for Quality HealthCare Medical Services Ltd, can already see how things are changing. "It is clear there are not enough nurses in Hong Kong," he says. "On average, we have ten job openings per month mainly for nursing positions and predict this number will grow. Around 80 per cent of our 200 frontline staff are nurses, but we also regularly recruit healthcare assistants, laboratory technicians and dispensers," he adds.
Mr Cheung points out that it can be a problem to find suitable candidates, since graduates interested in nursing are attracted by the higher starting salaries available in the public sector. He, nevertheless, continues to work closely with universities and to place employment notices in graduate career centres. In addition, he has set up a programme to target recruitment nurses who have taken early retirement from government hospitals.
"We have also looked at overseas recruitment," Mr Cheung explains, "but the different registration system in Hong Kong means that nurses from Singapore and Malaysia are required to sit examinations and obtain certificates from the Nursing Council in Hong Kong before they can take up employment."
There are not enough nurses in Hong Kong
In general, work in the private sector presents more of a challenge with multi-tasking and all-round skills being required, Mr Cheung admits. For example, nurses in a private clinic will have broader responsibilities and perform tasks that go beyond the traditional role. They are expected to have the self-motivation to deliver personalised service to patients. In a public hospital, by contrast, the division of labour is stricter, and nurses may only be required to focus on specific duties and work on a single ward.
Although the private sector can be more demanding, Mr Cheung believes it is also more rewarding. "A private clinic is less bureaucratic and more flexible, with fewer rules and regulations," he says. Equally important is that income can be more directly linked to one's performance, unlike the remuneration packages of doctors and nurses in public hospitals, which are tied to a pre-determined scale.
Because of the keen competition for nurses, the turnover rate is slightly higher than for other positions in the medical field. As a result, Quality HealthCare makes every effort to offer attractive packages. "We also provide a better organised and more systematic work environment with our day-to-day office procedures being fully computerised," Mr Cheung adds. "And, whenever necessary, we make sure to offer staff the most advanced training so that they have the very latest technical skills."
In a further move to assist employees, the company has introduced flexible working hours and part-time positions. Recognising the high-pressure nature of the job, special attention is given to organising recreational activities and seminars on stress management while longer leave entitlements and hardship allowances are granted to frontline staff. "We believe in taking care of our own staff as well as we can," says Mr Cheung. "Therefore, we have an Employee Assistance Programme to provide counselling services for individual employees and a Service from the Heart Award, which is presented to members of staff based on customer feedback about their performance."
Recent graduates are considered for every type of position except as healthcare assistants who are required to have a minimum of one year's relevant experience. "The right training and professional registration are essential to ensure such staff are fully capable of carrying out their duties," explains Mr Cheung. To facilitate recruitment for these positions, Quality HealthCare has teamed up with the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education to offer internships for those being trained as healthcare assistants.
When it comes to the key qualities expected of someone in the healthcare industry, Mr Cheung identifies a pleasant character and good interpersonal and communication skills. "We are in a form of service business," he explains. "However, it is more demanding and requires greater patience." Training in customer service skills is, therefore, a priority for Quality HealthCare's frontline staff.
They are taught how to greet people, the right telephone manner, and the procedures for making and confirming appointments.
All this is part of the process to make things run as smoothly as possible.
"We remind ourselves that people only come to clinics when they are sick and in need of special care and attention. This applies especially to private hospitals or clinics, so it is essential that we are always committed to the highest levels of service," Mr Cheung concludes.
Care and attention for staff and customers
- Consistent demand for nurses and other healthcare professionals
- Greater scope and flexibility offered in the private sector
- Emphasis on comprehensive training and support
- Commitment to the highest service levels