Economic woe, workplace violence fuel medical brain drain in Türkiye

A doctor works in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Ankara, Türkiye, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) — Economic factors, long shifts, and violence in the workplace have increasingly pushed Turkish doctors to seek jobs in foreign countries in recent years, according to a leading Turkish healthcare organization.

According to a recent statement published by the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), the number of doctors applying for a TTB certificate to help them work abroad reached 321 in September and 1,649 in the first nine months of 2023, compared to 1,405 applicants in 2021 and 482 in 2017.

“We know that one of the main causes of the emigration of doctors is violence, and we are struggling for effective legislation against violence in the healthcare field to ensure safe and healthy workplaces for medical staff,” the TTB said in the statement.

A TTB representative told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that while some doctors are seeking to work in European countries, Canada, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, the Health Ministry is recalling retired doctors between the ages of 65 to 72 amid a shortage of doctors in public hospitals.

Doctors work in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Ankara, Türkiye, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

Also, the rising trend of highly skilled medical professionals switching from public to private hospitals for better pay has further drained state-run hospitals, a doctor who wished to remain anonymous told Xinhua.

Türkiye’s economic woes, worsened by a currency decline in 2018, have impacted the entire population. Even healthcare professionals, who had been at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, were not spared.

Despite improvements in their wages by the government, doctors are complaining of long shifts, too many patients, and harsh working conditions.

“We cannot make ends meet with the salary that we receive, and there’s also the risk of getting punched or even killed by dissatisfied relatives of patients we treated,” Semih Gorgun, a general practitioner from Ankara, told Xinhua.

As a physician in his early thirties, Gorgun said these factors have led him to “the difficult decision” to seek a job in a European country.

This photo taken on Oct. 25, 2023, shows a view of Bilkent City Hospital in Ankara, Türkiye. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

Economic woes with stubborn inflation of over 60 percent annually have only made emigration more attractive to doctors, as the national currency has lost around a third of its value against the U.S. dollar since the start of the year.

To address the cost-of-living crisis, the government introduced last year reforms towards further improving healthcare professionals’ financial conditions and protecting them from violence.

However, violence in hospitals, making frequent headlines, remains a worrying issue in Türkiye.

In 2022, 249 violent incidents involving 494 attackers took place against healthcare workers, inflicting 422 casualties, according to the data released by the Turkish Union of Health Care and Social Service Workers, in January 2023.

The latest case of such incidents was reported on Oct. 7 in the northwestern Kocaeli province, where relatives of a patient attacked and beat three doctors in a state-run clinic.

Following the incident, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said two attackers had been arrested and jailed, and the third one was at large, in a post on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Generally, courts order trial without detention in such cases, but the public outcries about violence against doctors have led judges to opt for harsher measures.  

A nurse works in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Ankara, Türkiye, on Oct. 25, 2023. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

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