An American Abroad

First Encounter with the Chinese Health System

I was out the door of my hotel at 7:30 this morning accompanied by my employer’s bilingual welfare officer. A hired car took us to Kunming, about an hour north of Yuxi, so that I could have the medical exams needed for my work visa.

I was directed to the “International Epidemic Consulting Room,” where I was given a simple one-page health history form to fill out. Then I went to another window and paid the round-eye premium fee that was three times what people of other nationalities are charged.

Once the preliminaries were out of the way, the system pleased me with its efficiency. I had an eye test, a general physical exam, an EKG, blood work, a urine test, a chest X-ray, and an abdominal ultrasound all in the space of about an hour. All this would have gone even faster had the ultrasound tech not been puzzled by finding neither my gall bladder nor a big honking belly scar. After wanding my right lower gut for ten minutes, she was about to proclaim me a freak of nature before I explained laparoscopic surgery to her.

All those procedures done in the States would have cost many times more than the ¥420 (about $70) I was charged and would have taken days to complete. Of course, a certain amount of comfort and privacy was sacrificed for speed. The examinations took place in rooms with other applicants present or watching from just outside the door. And though the nurse didn’t give me a Band-Aid for my arm after drawing blood, she did give me a Q-tip to press against the puncture site once the blood started trickling down my arm.

The only comment made by any of the medical professionals examining me—at least, the only one I understood—was made by the doctor giving me the general physical, who gruffly told me I was overweight. How much did I need to lose? “Ten kilograms,” he barked. And he’s probably right.

Oh, and apparently I do NOT have syphilis. I don’t know how these ugly rumors get started…


  1. very interesting re the medical system. was it inexpensive to you through your employer or did the national health care system kick in for you? Do natives have to pay anything at all?

    • James Trumm says:

      My employer paid for all of this, since it falls under the terms of my contract which require them to cover visa fees and associated costs. I had these exams done at a clinic specifically set up for inbound and outbound travelers. Chinese people do have to pay for their services, though the freight is about one-third of what I paid.

  2. Dignity be damned! Not much use for it over there. The chinese are not embarrassed easily. Endearing.

Speak Your Mind