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A ‘made-in-Shanghai’ surgeon
By Holin Wang

After visiting the medical facilities in many countries, Birendra Kumar Sah chose to stay on in Shanghai.

“I can proudly say that most of local hospitals are as good as those in developed countries, if not better, especially in terms of medical experts,” says the Nepali doctor.

Filmed by Holin Wang and Joan Zheng. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

Having been in Shanghai for 18 years, Dr Sah — better known as Bi Renda or Lao Bi (Old Bi) — is now an attending surgeon at Ruijin Hospital's Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery, “doing intestinal and stomach surgeries.”

“In many Western countries, surgery on stomach cancer is very rare, usually about 15 to 20 cases a year, but here we perform nearly 900 cases a year,” he says.

Earning all his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in Shanghai, Lao Bi calls himself a “made-in-Shanghai” surgeon.

“I reckon that in no more than 10 years, doctors from around the world will travel to China to learn our way, especially for those diseases that are more prevalent here,” he notes.

While most foreign doctors in Shanghai work in private hospitals, Lao Bi — a name given by his friends — chose a different path. He passed all his tests in Chinese, has a Chinese medical license and earns the same as his Chinese colleagues.


Nepali doctor Birendra Kumar Sah (center) is an attending surgeon at Ruijin Hospital. — Wang Rongjiang

“When I was asked about the salary expectation during my interview, I said ‘How much does a Chinese doctor get’?” he says. “I do not need much money.”

Lao Bi is always patient and takes time getting to know them before treating his patients.

“They all had big hopes,” he says.

“They spent long time in the queues, and some had to ask for leave to come


Chinese hospitals are among the most crowded in the world, and doctors often need to treat a large number of patients every day. Lao Bi often sees about 100 in a full day in outpatients.

“Sometimes patients argue with me, but I won’t quarrel back,” he says. “I only care about treating them well. “To treat different patients, I often adjust my time. For example, 10 minutes for first-time patients and two minutes for return visitors with reports,” he continues.

“Most importantly, as a doctor you have to take time to properly explain things to your patients. If they are not happy, it is the doctor’s fault.

“As long as we give them a sense of security and treat them with respect, most of the problems can be solved.”

Asked about cash gifts, Lao Bi says: “Doctors should not accept any type of gifts and should at the same time assure patients that it is absolutely unnecessary as it will damage the sacred relationship between a doctor and his/her patient. And the media should also tell people that treating patients is a doctor's job. We get salaries.”

Q: What do you usually do on weekends?

A: There is actually no weekend for medical staff. But every doctor has days off. Of course, my free time is not fixed.

When I am free, I prefer to go out with my wife. For example, we will hang out around a park or go to see a movie. But our child is too young (1 year old) to watch films, so now we don’t go to the cinema very often.

If I have time on weekends, I will cook. I am good at cooking, even though my wife, also a doctor, doesn’t think so (laughing).

If we are both busy, we will eat at hospital. And if we are both tired, we can order take-out.


Birendra Kumar Sah, or Lao Bi, with his wife and 1-year-old son

Q: What do you love about Shanghai?

A: I never thought or planned to stay here long. Originally, I thought I would go back to Nepal when I graduated. But after I graduated, I still wanted to learn more. You know, there are so many people in China, thus more patients as well, while in Nepal the situation is different.

Maybe there are only 10 gastric cancer patients in Nepal each year, while there can be 30 in Shanghai each week. So I thought it was better to stay here. I like the pace of Shanghai. I prefer fast pace to European-style life. For example, most shopping malls in Europe are closed around 4pm or 5pm every day, but in Shanghai you can have fun even up until midnight. There is no good or bad, but different choices.

Q: Then what do you dislike in Shanghai?

A: I think every city in the world has its favorable and unfavorable sides. I have lived here for almost 20 years and I am used to living here, so there is nothing I dislike.

Just one point I want to mention, most expats don’t like being stared at. Sometimes such action leads to quarrels, especially in the Western world.

If I find someone looking at me straight in the eyes, I often have two reactions: Smile at them since I don’t want to make it awkward (sometimes they will smile back); or stare back at them.

But I never say anything because I am worried that they might ask me many questions such as “Where are you from? Can you speak Chinese? What’s your job.” It would be very annoying.


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