Unprecedented doctor emigration pushes Turkey's healthcare system to the brink

Unprecedented doctor emigration pushes Turkey's healthcare system to the brink
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Low salaries, hostile work environments, and long working hours drive doctors to seek employment abroad, leading to a shortage in the country's healthcare system.

By Hasret Vurucu

Turkey's healthcare system is teetering on the edge of a crisis due to a record-breaking exodus of doctors in recent years. Low pay, challenging working conditions, extended working hours, and the rise in violence incidents are prompting doctors to look for opportunities outside of Turkey.

According to the Turkish Medical Association's Doctor and Nurse Migration Reports, 25,000 doctors migrated abroad in 2021 and 2022, reaching 8,000 in the first eight months of 2023. Family medicine leads the list of specialties experiencing the highest migration, followed by pediatric health. The World Health Organization recommends 230 doctors and 120 specialist doctors per 100,000 people, but Turkey only has 205 and 105 specialist doctors per 100,000. In response to the growing gap in the number of doctors, the Ministry of Health has sought to reassign retired doctors aged 65-72. However, the number of applicants was less than expected.

Unfilled vacancies

Last week, the Ministry of Health called on physicians aged 65-72 to 'return to the profession' to alleviate the bottleneck caused by the doctor migration. However, the results revealed that this call did not solve the problem. Out of the 118 available positions, only 36 doctors applied for the second term of 2023 reappointment for ages 65-72.

Due to insufficient applications, the Ministry could not make appointments in some departments. There were vacant positions for family medicine and anesthesiology and no applications for dermatology, endocrinology, and child psychiatry departments.

The violence factor

Muharrem Baytemur, President of the ATO (Ankara Medical Chamber), said that while the Ministry's call emphasized experience, the real reason for the step was not resignation from experience. "Our young colleagues are migrating, creating a gap, and the Ministry is trying to fill it," he said.

Baytemur attributed the low number of applications to the crisis in the healthcare system, stating that measures must be taken to prevent doctors from going abroad. "The reasons for our doctors migrating abroad also apply to this appointment. The fact that the general health environment has become a violent environment is one of the main reasons pushing our young colleagues away from their workplaces and forcing them to resign," he said.

Bad work conditions

Reports highlight that violence and harsh working conditions are among the main factors causing doctors to migrate. The decline in the number of doctors due to migration increases the burden on the remaining doctors and makes it almost impossible to find specialist doctors in some areas. According to Baytemur, these factors will pose severe problems for newly appointed doctors aged 65-72:

"Assignments were made mostly to district and city hospitals. Doctors may have to work as the sole specialist in the district where they are appointed. This means working non-stop, 24/7. A similar situation is experienced in city hospitals, where there is an extremely intense work pace. For our 65-year-old colleagues, working alone in a busy hospital or a district is not an easy task."