Far from a healthy Health Workforce: lack of workforce planning leaves our citizens without access to proper care

Stijntje Dijk

Stijntje Dijk is Liaison Officer for Medical Education issues at IFMSA.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Stijntje Dijk, Liaison Officer for Medical Education issues at the International Federation of Medical  Students’ Associations (IFMSA).

We write to you today as the representatives of medical students worldwide to express our deep concern for the access to healthcare as well as the wellbeing of our future patients, together with our hopefulness for a solution. The International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA), representing 1.3 million medical students worldwide, believes that a global strategy is needed to coordinate the development of human resources for health worldwide, and more than that, we need to ensure its implementation.

Ensuring healthy lives of our population is one of our region’s highest concerns. Yet, without enough healthcare workers with the right set of skills, this cannot be accomplished. Europe is currently facing many challenges, the importance of which is reflected by the creation of a Joint Action of the European Commission dedicated to solely this issue. Estimates from WHO and the World Bank identify one of the major challenges to attaining universal health coverage is the projected global deficit of nearly 18 million health workers by 2030, a shortfall of around 1 million healthcare workers (13.8%) in the EU by 2020.

However, although numbers of health workers seem to be the major focus to many governments, our major concerns lie in lacking quality of education and workforce planning. Rapid and uncontrolled scale ups of the numbers of health professionals in training is increasing each day within our region, and many faculty don’t live up to the World Federation for Medical Education global standards in medical education. Without proper education quality oversight, this will lead to unqualified health professionals, and, therefore, poor health care services. Furthermore, without proper health workforce planning mechanisms, there might even be enough health workers with the right skills, but not spread according to the populations or health system’s needs as specialization or geographical distribution within or between countries, where they are needed the most.

It takes much time to fully educate a healthcare worker, in many European countries it takes between 5-7 years to become a basic medical doctor, followed by an additional time of specialization (from 3 to 6 years). Therefore, the time to act is now, and not when the situation is even more critical and unsustainable.

In order to achieve the health workforce we need and that our communities deserve, we need international/regional strategies and national implementation, that aim to ensure quality of education and workforce planning, and regulation of retention and recruitment.

We need the involvement of all stakeholders including government, civil society organizations, health worker organizations, students, educational institutions and patient organizations to work together to identify and tackle the challenges ahead.

We as the future health workforce commit to our responsibilities to positively impact the communities that we serve and will serve in the future, and ask all those with a political voice to do the same. We are calling for the adoption of the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030, and we are calling for our government’s commitment to implement national strategies to ensure the health of our health workforce.

About the author

Stijntje Dijk

Stijntje Dijk is Liaison Officer for Medical Education issues at IFMSA.

Stijntje Dijk serves for the second term as IFMSA Liaison Officer for Medical Education issues. The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations unites medical students worldwide to lead initiatives that impact positively the communities we serve. IFMSA represents the opinions and ideas of future medical professionals in the field of global health, and connects and engages with 1.3 million medical students from 116 countries across the globe.  Stijntje is a medical student from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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