The Booming Healthcare Industry in China: Can Talent Acquisition Keep Pace?

“China is the most exciting healthcare story in the world today.”
Franck Le Deu, Senior Partner McKinsey & Company

Fuelled by growing healthcare demands from its increasingly affluent population, the government’s drive to open the healthcare market to foreign companies, and the development of innovative local healthcare solutions, China is undoubtedly one of the more exciting healthcare stories today.

However, this story does come at a price. Companies are scrambling for talent as the market expands, often rapidly in new directions. Is talent acquisition keeping pace? Or is it lagging behind industry demand?


Four dynamic sectors are driving China’s healthcare industry:

  1. Pharmaceutical, especially biopharm

  2. Health Services, specifically for private hospitals, clinics, senior living facilities, and wellness

  3. Medtech

  4. Internet Health

While each sector has its specific challenges, six common areas affect talent management as a whole. These overlapping issues influence the healthcare industry for the domestic as well as the global market.

  1. Government-backed initiatives to foster growth.  The Chinese government is an active participant and advocate in the local healthcare industry, both for domestic and global consumers. Regulation changes and internal market access to foreign pharmaceutical companies are proof of the government’s intent.

  2. China as a key contributor to the revenue and growth of multinationals.  This will remain true for some time to come despite the growth slowdown across all healthcare industry sectors.

  3. Essential source of global healthcare innovation.  Product and business model innovation is significantly more prevalent in China, in comparison to the West. Adoption and acceptance rates of innovative solutions remain high.

  4. Affluence and the rising Chinese middle-class healthcare expectations.  Like any country with a sizeable middle class, local expectations go beyond the primary treatment of illnesses and now embrace wellness, preventative medicine, and facilities to match the rising income levels of a more sophisticated local consumer.

  5. The digital transformation of the Chinese healthcare industry., China’s online healthcare platform, is an excellent example of a digital solution with a patient-focused strategy for retail, hospital services, and internet healthcare.

  6. Global R&D integration.  The challenge is in integrating a global strategy with China product teams and a continually evolving local innovation ecosystem. Although best practices exist, a proven approach is still a work-in-progress.

The challenge is in integrating a global strategy with China product teams and a continually evolving local innovation ecosystem.


Across the four sectors driving the healthcare industry, there is a clear delineation of candidates wanted, including those with: 

  • BD and strategic experience 

  • Marketing experience 

  • Operational and clinical experience 

  • R&D experience

  • CEO / CMO / COO for health services

Talent acquisition for any of these categories will face challenges similar to that of most industries in China. For example, candidates will expect higher salaries, a clear and achievable career path, a chance to make a difference in the new company, organisational values aligned with their own, and job stability and personal growth.

To compound matters, talent acquisition in the healthcare industry is all the more challenging due to the unique nature and diversity of the industry itself. While traditional products and services are still of importance, the demand for non-traditional solutions and innovative products and services is continuously increasing.

Two key issues emerge that affect talent acquisition:

Issue 1: The Talent Pool - Should we actively look outside the industry?

The internet health sector is an excellent example of the talent pool issue in China. Being a relatively new sector, where can we find the best candidates? Recent trends show that more and more physicians are joining the internet health sector as consultants, many in the area of operational management. Hiring physicians for operational management fill a talent gap in this sector and will be closely watched to see if this is a stopgap measure or a viable long-term solution.

For the more traditional business development, strategic, operational, clinical, and R&D roles, candidates were previously required to have local industry experience and knowledge. However, the evolving nature of the industry has allowed a larger talent pool to emerge. For instance, healthcare companies with business development and strategic role needs have appointed talent who have consulting backgrounds and are willing to take on project management roles. For R&D roles, clients are often willing to consider overseas talent, especially from the US market. Talent for such traditional roles can indeed come from outside the usual pool of candidates.

Talent for such traditional roles can indeed come from outside the usual pool of candidates.

Regardless of the specific roles candidates are expected to fill, they are also available from outside the industry. With new roles such as innovation project managers, CEO business assistants, clinical supply chain operators, and AI/digital, outside talent is increasingly significant. These roles did not exist until very recently, and an expanded talent pool will help fill this need. 

But what about talent from overseas markets? Especially for the “hot” local positions of CEO, CMO, and operational roles, candidates from APAC, Australia and the US are often highly sought after. The trend of hiring overseas candidates is an indicator that talent acquisition is coming from outside the usual candidate pool.

Issue 2: The mindset of employers & how it affects talent acquisition in the healthcare industry

The industry has three major employers: Government, joint ventures between local and foreign companies, and private companies. Employers with a more traditional view of their business will look for conservative candidates with a proven track record. These candidates have a “ready-aim-fire” approach to work as they are more careful and cautious, matching the employer’s traditional views in an ever-evolving industry.

On the other hand, employers in need of innovation must ensure they do not get left behind and should seek talent with a more “ready-FIRE-aim” approach. They need candidates with a start-up and innovative mindset who are happy to create new processes and procedures as well as test what works and what does not. It is still unknown how employers will react by allowing these talents to innovate. However, if China’s experience with growing unicorns is any indication, many high potential candidates will come from China’s massive young talent pool. Given the right environment, these candidates have the ability and desire to create innovative solutions.


The healthcare industry in China is the latest addition to the long list of success stories coming from China. While talent acquisition efforts have mostly kept pace with the rapid changes, innovative talent acquisition practices must take shape to continue this success story. Unlike other industries in China, how best to approach this can raise more questions than it answers.

Whether it involves AI, looking at different industries for candidates, or reskilling the existing workforce to take on new roles, one thing is clear. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to talent acquisition, and a “wait-and-see” attitude will not help. Instead, the time is right for a “ready-FIRE-aim” approach.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to talent acquisition, and a “wait-and-see” attitude will not help. Instead, the time is right for a “ready-FIRE-aim” approach.


For more information, please contact the Profile China Healthcare & Life Sciences team:

Cherry Zhu, Director

Dan Zhao, Senior Consultant

Raphael Yang, Senior Consultant

Alex Luo, Consultant

Cheese Yan, Consultant

Click here to download the full report.


Cherry Zhu, Director, Profile Search & Selection


October 2019