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Turkish doctors increasingly emigrating to Western countries, report reveals

HATAY, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 02: A doctor examines 14-month-old Syrian baby Muhammad, who was born without arms or legs, after he is brought to Turkey from Syria's Idlib province by order of Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu to be taken to the hospital for the necessary examinations in Hatay, Turkey on September 02, 2020. ( Erdal Türkoğlu - Anadolu Agency )
A doctor examines 14-month-old Syrian baby Muhammad, who was born without arms or legs, after he is brought to Turkey from Syria's Idlib province by order of Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu to be taken to the hospital for the necessary examinations in Hatay, Turkey on September 02, 2020 [Erdal Türkoğlu - Anadolu Agency]

Doctors have increasingly been leaving Turkey over the past decade at an alarming rate to work in European countries and the United States, statistics from the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) reveal.

According to a report by the London-based news outlet Middle East Eye (MEE), which cited the TMA's figures, the number of doctors who left Turkey in the first 11 months of 2021 was 1,361. That was a stark comparison to only 59 who left in 2012, marking a 2,206 per cent increase.

Citing doctors who are considering leaving, the report revealed that the exodus of doctors from the country is due to a variety of factors including long work shifts of 36 continuous hours for at least eight times a month, low pay, physical and psychological abuse, mandatory service in remote areas and nepotism in hospital management.

The economic crisis in Turkey has also contributed to many of the doctors' decision to leave, as well as some being made to work in other fields of expertise in the high demand for doctors during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

One assistant doctor in Istanbul, Gulseren Yenice, told the paper that only one intern doctor out of 150 in her hospital last year was studying for Turkey's medical expertise exam, leaving the remaining 149 other interns "studying for exams in either the US or Germany." She also admitted that she was also learning German.

Yenice also referred to increasing violence by both patients and employers, worsening economic conditions, and the fact that unqualified people gain top positions in hospitals due to their political ties to the government as key reasons for doctors wanting to leave.

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"Even professors are seeking ways to find a place for themselves in a German or Swiss hospital," she said. "Why shouldn't they, when a doctor barely survives under these economic conditions, in addition to constant threats from patients, the hospital management, as well as abuse from unskilled but Ankara-provided privileged managers?"

For one public health specialist in an Istanbul hospital, Sena Kerimoglu, experiencing violence throughout her medical career is the primary reason. She recalled one early morning shift "when a man, who refused to stay in the queue in the accident and emergency area, suddenly attacked the doctor just standing near me." The man told her that if she was not a woman, he would also hit her head. "Why should I continue doing this job without even my life being safe?" she now asks.

Furthermore, Germany is reportedly welcoming towards Turkish doctors as it is in need of them, according to Umut Karapinar, a Turkish man who already lives in Germany and who gives advice on visa issues and other requirements. The working conditions in Germany are also more favourable than Turkey, as "a doctor works around 40 hours a week, with the possibility of reducing this number to 20. So, they have a social life here."

The process to move and work in Germany's medical system takes very long and is costly, however, with Karapinar saying that it is usually "around 12 to 18 months" and "costs more than 10,000 euros [$11,300], which is a considerable amount of money today, given the depreciation of the Turkish lira against foreign currencies."

The Turkish government is aware of the mass emigration of doctors, according to the report, with an anonymous health ministry official telling it that it is "a serious problem, and the government is doing its best to prevent this migration." The official added that "We'll do the required regulations as soon as possible."

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