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Thousands of Turkish doctors emigrate due to deteriorating working conditions

Low wages, extreme workload, psychological and physical violence, discrimination and insecurity are among the causes of the phenomenon
Ambulancia Turquía

AFP/BULENT KILIC  -   Health workers in Istanbul, Turkey

Mistreatment in hospital work, physical and verbal assaults by patients, an extraordinary workload, insufficient salaries? This is the cocktail that, worsened by the pandemic and an economic crisis, is behind the flight of doctors threatening the Turkish healthcare system. The Turkish Medical Association (TTB) has warned that thousands of doctors have fled abroad in the last two years and some 8,000 are preparing to leave. The TTB has called on the government to take urgent measures to stop the emigration of health workers.

According to Professor Süleyman Kaynak, a member of the executive board of the Izmir branch of the TTB, more than 3,000 doctors have left Turkey in the past two years to work in other countries and some 8,000 medical school students are planning to emigrate to Europe, especially to Germany. "Our colleagues are looking for work outside the country. Most of the doctors we have talked to have the same idea," Kaynak told the Cumhuriyet daily on Wednesday.

Selçuk Candansayar, who teaches at a medical school at Gazi University in Ankara, also told Efe that leaving the country is a dream for most of his best students and assistants.

The best leave

"This country spends about a million dollars to educate a doctor. The best of our graduates come to see me every week to ask me how they can go and work abroad," says the professor, recalling recent TTB research showing that 80 Turkish doctors emigrate every month.

Low salaries, extreme workload, psychological ('mobbing') and physical violence, discrimination and insecurity are the causes of this trend, according to the study, which was carried out last month with surveys of more than 6,000 doctors throughout the country. Eighty-six percent of those questioned said they had suffered physical or verbal violence from patients or their relatives, 76 percent complained of not being paid for overtime during the pandemic, 68 percent highlighted the lack of time to care for the sick properly and 45 percent reported inadequate salaries.

Hospital Turquía
PHOTO/AFP  -  Members of a medical team attend to a patient in one of the intensive care units for COVID-19 patients at Akdeniz University Hospital in Antalya, Turkey

"Most of my colleagues have more than a hundred patients in a day, how will it be possible to adequately care for so many patients," Yilmaz Kurt, a doctor in the emergency unit of a private hospital in Ankara, told Efe. The doctor recalled the increased workload during the covid-19 pandemic, a disease that has so far affected 34% of emergency doctors in Turkey, according to TTB data, including Kurt himself.

Violence in hospitals

According to Kurt, violence is now routine in hospitals, where some people come armed. "Ninety percent of the doctors in the emergency unit experienced some kind of violence," he says. TTB's research shows that last year alone there were nearly 12,000 reported cases of violence against doctors in the Eurasian country.

"Turkish doctors and surgeons can be found in almost every clinic in Germany," says Kenan Ipek, a surgeon responsible for coordinating the emergency units of some private hospitals in Istanbul,

When asked by Efe, Ipek confirmed that he knows several doctors who have left to work in Western Europe. "Our colleagues are leaving because of bad working conditions, violence and the instability of the economy. They don't see a better future here for themselves and their children. And everything has been made worse by the pandemic," he says.

According to the TTB, stopping the emigration of doctors is now a priority for the Turkish health system. To do this, it is necessary to "stop the violence, reduce working hours and improve salaries," the association stressed.