Medical workforce migration in Europe – Is it really a problem?

Health Brain Drain

Vytenis Andriukaitis, Member of the EC in charge of Health and Food Safety. © European Union , 2018 / Source: EC – Audiovisual Service / Photo: Lukasz Kobus.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mr Rytis Trojanas, a 3rd year medical student at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Mr Trojanas is the Secretary General at Lithuanian Medical Students’ Association. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Imagine post-Soviet Lithuania. Imagine a wild jungle with no laws and authorities. After 50 years behind the Iron curtain and constant oppression we became independent. Western world opened his arms and hugged us so hard that we couldn’t let go. Over 28 years of freedom, more than a million Lithuanians left the country to pursue their dreams abroad.

Medical professionals are not an exception. Higher income, qualitative education, balanced workload – those are only few reasons for a young, perspective physician to choose emigration over mother nation.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it will certainly get you a better class of memories.” – Ronald Reagan. We can talk about how wealth should not be our first or second priority in life but usually it is a factor. A person in his mid 20’s desires to fulfill his dreams – whether it is to buy a brand new Ferrari whether it is to travel all over the globe – you need finances for that. So, when the Western Europe offers triple, even quadruple salary than Eastern Europe we face quite a straightforward choice.

Furthermore, the differences between residencies in East and West are so enormous, the only mutual point they share is the name. The main struggle for Lithuanians is that our hospitals and Universities still do not implement competency based medical education. Therefore, residents become hostages of time – during a limited period of time they have to master numerous professional skills because if they won’t there will be no second chance.

In addition, residents have the same status as students in the hospital. In other words, residents cannot make a decision by themselves or sign authorized papers. Consequently, once you become a doctor you face lack of experience of decision making which can end in a severe mistake or even death.

Also, it’s worth a mention that our healthcare system still has major numbers of corruption and nepotism. We face bribing for a faster inspection or operation, we see politicians or Party members getting treatment in extraordinary conditions, we witness professors preferring to teach relatives or their colleagues relatives over an average student. A vast part of doctors and students cannot tolerate a system like that, hence they choose to abandon the system.

To sum up, obviously, we encounter a lot of problems in our healthcare system. Do they become an excuse to leave native country? Absolutely. Is the emigration the only way out? Absolutely not. We can make huge changes which are necessary to maybe flip the direction of migration. We can endeavor so heavily that after 10 years, we had to write articles on medical workforce migration from the West to the East.

And to answer my beginning thesis, I believe that medical workforce migration is not a problem per se. Huge gaps between the healthcare systems is the problem we should focus on.

About the author

Mr Rytis Trojanas is a 3rd year medical student at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Mr. Trojanas is the Secretary General at Lithuanian Medical Students’ Association. He has interest in medical education, anticorruption, effective healthcare management and other relevant medical issues. Rytis actively engages in activities extending his competence towards these topics as well as representing students’ voice on a national level.

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