BEIJING, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Liu Heping quickly packs his thermometer, blood pressure monitor and other equipment in a worn bag after treating a patient suffering from a fever.
The 61-year-old village doctor is about to visit his tenth patient of the day in the village of Taoling in east China's Jiangxi Province.
Liu and Yu Baohe are the village's only doctors, although the local population numbers around 1,500 people. For the last 40 years, local villagers have relied on the pair to take care of their illnesses.
Liu and Yu built their own clinic in 2006 with government subsidies and 40,000 yuan (6,424 U.S. dollars) of their own money. Before that, Liu's home served as the village's only clinic.
The clinic is just 100 square meters in size and contains a pharmacy, consulting room, injection room, duty room and observation room. Basic medicine is sold at cost at the clinic.
Although the villagers now enjoy better medical services and cheaper medicine, Liu is still concerned about their future. He has reached retirement age, but cannot leave the clinic.
"I receive a monthly subsidy of 2,000 yuan as a village doctor. But I only get a pension of 65 yuan each month if I choose to retire, which is not enough to get by," Liu said.
Low incomes and pensions are a common problem for rural doctors, a fact that has led young doctors to avoid working in such areas. This has created a dilemma in which older doctors are retiring or overworked while their younger successors elect to work elsewhere.
Taoling is located in Duchang County, where 70 percent of the county's 1,035 doctors are over 40 years old.
"The successor dilemma will not only make it harder for villagers to see a doctor, but also compromise the rural health system," said Liu Shaohua, director of the Duchang Health Bureau.
China has about 1.1 million rural doctors like Liu who are responsible for maintaining medical services in vast rural areas.
However, even young rural doctors are worrying about their future.
Born in the 1980s, Li Feng is currently serving as a doctor in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
He said rural doctors are commonly overworked and underpaid. Li himself makes just 1,000 yuan a month.
"I can hardly earn a living when 500 grams of pork can cost over 10 yuan," Li said.
In 2010, the Ministry of Health released a guideline intended to foster discussion of social welfare issues that concern rural doctors.
The problem is also being discussed during the ongoing annual sessions of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC), China's national legislature, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top political advisory body.
NPC deputy Yao Aixing has drafted and submitted a proposal that would establish a pension insurance system for rural doctors, as well as suggested that a one-time subsidy should be given to rural doctors who plan to retire.