Barefoot doctors (Chinese: 赤脚医生 pinyin: chìjiǎo yīshēng) are farmers who received minimal basic medical and paramedical training and worked in rural villages in the People's Republic of China. Their purpose was to bring health care to rural areas where urban-trained doctors would not settle. They promoted basic hygiene, preventive health care, and family planning and treated common illnesses. The name comes from southern farmers, who would often work barefoot in the rice paddies.
In the 1930s, the Rural Reconstruction Movement had pioneered village health workers trained in basic health as part of a coordinated system, and there had been provincial experiments after 1949, but after Mao ...view middle of the document...
They would live in an area for half a year to a year and continue the education of the barefoot doctors. About a fifth of the barefoot doctors later entered medical school.
 WorkBarefoot doctors acted as a primary health-care provider at the grass-roots level. They were given a set of medicines, Western and Chinese that they would dispense. Often they grew their own herbs in the backyard. As Mao had called for, they tried to integrate both Western and Chinese medicine, like acupuncture and moxibustion. An important feature was that they were still involved in farm work, often spending as much as 50% of their time on this - this meant that the rural farmers perceived them as peers, and respected their advice more. They were integrated in a system where they could refer seriously ill people to township and county hospitals.
Barefoot doctors provided mostly primary health care services, and focused on prevention rather than treatment. They provided immunizations, delivery for pregnant women, and improvement of sanitation. The income of the barefoot doctors was calculated as if it were agricultural work; they were paid roughly half of what a classically trained doctor made. This funding came from collective welfare funds as well as from local farmer contributions (from 0.5% to 2% of their annual incomes). This program was successful in part because the doctors were selected and paid by their own villages. By the 1960s, there were RCMS programs in 90% of China's rural villages.
The work of the barefoot doctors effectively reduced health care costs in the People’s Republic of China, and provided primary care treatment to the rural farming population. The World Health Organization regarded RCMS as a “successful example of solving shortages or medical services in rural areas”.
 End of barefoot doctors in ChinaTwo-thirds of the village doctors currently practicing in rural China began their training as barefoot doctors. This includes Chen Zhu, China’s current Minister of Health, who practiced as a barefoot doctor for five years before going on to receive additional training.
The barefoot doctor system was abolished in 1981 with the end of the commune system of agricultural cooperatives. The new economic policy in China promoted a shift from collectivism to individual production by the family unit. This shift caused a privatization of the medical...