A small town in rural Japan is to train an 18-year-old Vietnamese girl as a doctor to help plug a desperate shortage of physicians as its population ages and shrinks, a report said Wednesday.
Ichinohe in the country’s north has a population of 14,000 people but only four doctors in private practice, so has decided to shoulder the cost of putting 18-year-old Luu Hong Ngoc through medical school in Japan.
Town officials say they will meet her living expenses and educational fees, including two years at a Japanese language school when she arrives from Ho Chi Minh City later this year, Kyodo news agency said.
Japan’s countryside has long suffered a debilitating population drain, with skilled and educated workers decamping to the country’s vibrant cities where they can more easily find well-paid work.
The issue exacerbates problems caused by an inverted age pyramid, with more than 20 percent of the population now aged 65 or over, a proportion that is forecast to rise over the coming decades.
Ngoc, whose mother is a doctor and grandmother is a Japanese interpreter, is expected to arrive in Japan around September, Kyodo said.
The town anticipates that she will be able to begin working as a doctor in around a decade. There were no details of the terms of the offer.
In the area around Ichinohe there are around 700 patients per doctor, compared with a national average of approximately 430, Kyodo said.
“We are running out of options. It may take so much time but we will help her and hopefully have her work in Ichinohe,” town mayor Akira Inaba told the media. “The idea has come out of desperation.”
Immigration, particularly to the countryside, is relatively unusual in Japan.
Recent moves to encourage nurses from overseas provoked debate about how non-native speakers would be able to cope with the demands of caring for their monolingual charges.