Hey Docs, Want To Work in China? Here's How.

One of the most common questions I get from readers is more of a professional question from colleagues all over the world: how can I work as a doctor in China? I’ve answered so often via email that I decided to write a post about it, so here goes:

The bottom line is that it’s not too difficult to find work here in China. Or perhaps I should rephrase that: it’s not as impossible as it is in many countries; for example, you do not need to retake a residency program simply to work here. Nor do you need to know Chinese; that’s because you’re not allowed to work in a local Chinese hospital anyway, and you are restricted to the few dozen expat clinics and hospitals scattered around China’s largest cities. Usually English is the primary language at these sites.

It’s just a few simple steps:

  • You contact all the expat clinics in your city of choice
  • You get hired by an expat hospital or clinic
  • They sponsor you to take the medical exam — in English
  • Voila! That’s it.

OK, it’s not that simple, but let’s take me for example: five years ago, when I knew I was moving to Beijing, I cold-called and emailed all of the expat clinics in Beijing; I eventually interviewed and got hired to work in the clinic and continue what I always do — family medicine. I started immediately and soon took Beijing’s twice-a-year medical exam for foreign doctors. This exam was in English and consisted of a two hour written exam of 100 general medicine questions very similar to Step 3 of the USMLE boards; the second part was a 20 minute oral presentation — in English — of a sample patient. You read the case for 5 minutes and then nervously discuss your assessment and treatment plans in front of an intimidating (but nice) panel of three local superstar doctors. Then you nervously wait a few weeks to find out; even if you do not pass, which isn’t rare, it’s not a disaster. Similar to your boards exams in America and elsewhere, you usually can continue to work and take the test again in a year. Once you pass, you do not need to retake the test.

Specialists vs GPs

It’s much easier for a family medicine doctor to find work here, mostly because most expat clinics hire a lot more GPs than specialists. Specialists are limited to the few expat hospitals in China. My company, , runs China’s largest and most prestigious group of foreign-owned hospitals in China and continues to expand into new cities, and we are always looking for top doctors from all over the world. You can keep an eye on  or also.

What is the Practice Like, and How Much Will You Make?

Your medical practice here will be eerily similar to your practice at home; your office will have the same exam table with the equipment on the wall; kids get the same vaccines (mostly); patients will have the same illnesses (mostly acute and not chronic diseases). At the expat clinics, we all try to follow international standards of care, and you will get your usual 20-30 minute slots per patient.

Of course, you will have some culture shock, otherwise what’s the point of coming? The nurses are all Chinese as required by law, so you will find a lot of cultural differences from them. It will be fascinating and fun, but also frustrating. Also, local hospital care is very, very different from the expat clinics, and you will almost never see a local Chinese person without insurance, mostly because a local doc costs maybe 10RMB (less than $2) while a typical expat clinic visit is about what you’d pay in the US — around $100. You will see a lot of Chinese patients but these are the wealthy groups, or ones who have good insurance, likely from a foreign-owned company.

Speaking of money: in general, the expat clinics will offer primary care docs a salary range similar to the salaries in the US. It depends on your package and your clinic. Usually you get free health insurance from your own clinic.

Where To  Find a List of Clinics?

Most expat clinics are in Beijing and Shanghai, with a few others scattered around top tier cities. To find the clinics, a simple Google search can help, but my favorite list is provided by the US Embassies; they have a list of expat clinics for , , and .

And On A Personal Note…

Come to China! It’s an amazing experience. Five years ago, I never thought I would leave my paradise lifestyle in Sonoma County, but I’m still here in Beijing and having the best adventures of my life.

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12 thoughts on “Hey Docs, Want To Work in China? Here's How.”

    1. Salaries and benefits differ with each clinic and doctor — but in general, since they are trying to get good docs from all over the world, the salary is fairly similar to what you would make in the US. This is only for expat docs, of course — the average salaries for docs in China are much lower.

    2. What is the ranges for a GP salary in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc? Apparently they can vary a lot, so an objective assessment is required to avoid being shortchanged.

      Do they also look at your country of origin when offering a salary?

  1. Hi Richard, thanks for the invaluable info.
    I think you are probably the only source online that provides much needed information on this issue – since you’ve been there and done it!
    Just a few questions:
    1) Are foreign docs not allowed to work in public/local hospital, full stop? If they are allowed, how is it done?
    2) Re: “Beijing’s twice-a-year medical exam for foreign doctors” – a) is this only required of foreign docs who want to work in foreign hospitals in Beijing, what if they want to go to Shanghai – do they still need the exam? b) Also is there a website to apply for the exam and which books did you use to prepare for the exam?

    Thanks in advance

    1. 1. I don’t think foreigners are allowed in local hospitals but am not 100% sure. Your Chinese would probably have to be fluent.
      2.a) The exam is required for Beijing and I believe Shanghai but I do not believe in all cities. For specifics, the HR person in each clinic would be the best to answer that. b) There is no website to apply for the exam; your clinic first needs to hire you, and then they apply for the exam and schedule for you. As for books, it’s very similar to the standard exams, so your typical Harrisons question books or Family Medicine board review workbooks are all you need. Don’t forget that this GP exam is GP and not just internal medicine — that means you need to know your peds and ob/gyn, as well as prevention issues. Standard stuff for any GP…

  2. Hi Dr. Cyr,

    I’m an Australian graduate doing my internship (1st year out of med school) and was wondering if there are any opportunities to work in china at a registrar level?
    Also would happen to know the scope of sports medicine in china and the propensity of private clinics to hire an international sports doctor? And finally what is an average salary package in beijing for an international fam physician?


  3. Medical exams? Even for board certified internists practicing in the US? Do they ever waive these tests?

  4. Most of those student graduated from Chinese Medical Schools without setting down for medical licensing exam will never have the chance to work in China as a doctor ! as a medical student graduated from china , i understand that mastering (fully) the mandarin is essential for those trying to get a job in china , anyway i would say going back home and getting experience sounds like a better idea than staying in china and teach English  

  5. My wife is in her third year of med school and has taken an interest in Emergency Medicine/Surgery. Though she still has pediatrics, psychiatry, and family medicine to get through, but she knows she doesn’t want to do family medicine. We both spent a year in China (6 months in Beijing and 6 months in Hong Kong) years back when we were in undergrad and have thought about how we might be able to go back to live and work. What do you think are the odds of her finding a position at an expat hospital in the mainland? Hong Kong? Also, I’m a lawyer. Do you know of any expat lawyers in either the mainland or Hong Kong who’ve found work?

  6. I do a plastic and cosmetic work in australia and would like to move to do the same in china, any advice please
    I do have a large clientele of asian origin in australia and have a lot of experience in that feild


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