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Internal Medicine: Global Perspectives
Somwang Danchaivijitr, MD, FACP (Hon)

Immediate Past President, Royal College of Physicians of Thailand

Somwang Danchaivijitr, MD, FACP (Hon.)Thailandís distinctive qualities resonate throughout this ancient Southeast Asian country, from its floating markets to the Buddhist temples to the electric streets of Bangkok. Over the last three decades, poverty has been successfully reduced and the coverage of social services has improved. By 2006, the number of poor people in Thailand dropped from 18.4 million in 1990 to 6.1 million. Higher income and greater access to health care have also led to healthier mothers and fewer deaths of children under five. More than 97 percent of the population, both in the urban and rural areas, now have access to clean water and sanitation. Thailand has also been recognized for its effective response to HIV/AIDS, which has helped the government cut down HIV infections dramatically since the mid-1990s.

In our July issue, we talk to Dr. Danchaivijitr, FACP, Immediate Past President of RCPT, about why internal medicine is a popular choice of specialty in Thailand, how kindness and smiles make it a peaceful country to live in, and how patients believe and trust in their physicians.

Thailand At A Glance

  • Population: 63,444,000
  • Number of Physicians: 22,435
  • Healthy life expectancy at birth: Men 58; Women 62

Sources: World Health Organization (www.who.org); World Bank (www.worldbank.org)

What inspired you to become a physician?

At the time I entered medical school, there were only a small number of physicians and they were well respected for what they did, and I wanted to become one of them.

What were your responsibilities as president of the RCPT? What motivated you to take the role?

I tried my best to lead RCPT to achieve its objectives. I had been working for the RCPT for 20 years before taking the post which was very challenging.

How long did you serve as president and what did you accomplish during your tenure that you are proud of?

The term of presidency of RCPT is two years. My term ended in early May 2010. My team and I worked hard to improve training, research and professional conferences. We also stepped up co-operation with colleges in many countries.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of leadership? The most rewarding?

One of the more challenging things I have found is getting internists working closely together, especially in the training of residents. But the most rewarding is to be able to work closely with colleagues overseas. The RCPT is in the process of addressing both topics, and we hope that our efforts will be well rewarded!

What are the strengths of the Thailand health care system? What are the weaknesses or challenges? How are you addressing them and what are your thoughts on how to best address them?

I feel as though one of the best strengths of our system is that we have physicians who have high standards. However, we do have weaknesses, which we need to improve on, including the unequal accessibility of health care in rural areas, and a health policy that needs to be directed differently to benefit citizens more effectively. Unfortunately, efforts to address these problems have been hindered by politicians and some physicians; at RCPT, we are mainly involved in upgrading the quality of medical care to the highest possible standard.

Are there enough young physicians choosing to be internists in Thailand? What makes them choose internal medicine?

Internal medicine is one of the most popular specialties in Thailand, so we have a high level of applications for training. Students choose internal medicine because the specialty is challenging and requires constant learning, and one can practice internal medicine even at an old age. It is also not difficult to operate a private practice. All of these are incentives for students to pursue it.

Is access to electronic information or products influencing what patients want from their doctors in Thailand?

Patients who are influenced by electronic information through the internet are a minority here. The majority of patients in Thailand have good faith and respect in their physicians.

What health care systems of other countries do you admire?

I canít say, but I do know what we need to do to improve ours: upgrade our standard of care to the people, and provide better access to healthcare. I am not sure there are countries with success in both objectives right now; I doubt there are any.

What are the strengths or defining qualities of the Thailand people? What do you love about your country?

Thai people are kind and friendly which is reflected in their smiles. Together with the oriental style, the life here is peaceful.

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