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Record number of doctors sought to leave Turkey in September, TTB data show

Turkey doctors

In this file photo doctors wear vests that read, "End violence in health" as medics protest following the Contract and Payment Regulation imposed by the Ministry of Health, in Ulus Square, in Ankara on February 17, 2022. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Statistics from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) show that a record number of 321 physicians applied for a certificate of good standing in advance of moving abroad in September, with the total reaching 1,649 in the first nine months of 2023, local media reported on Tuesday.

More and more doctors are moving overseas due to poor working conditions and acts of violence in Turkey, which has the fewest number of doctors in Europe when the populations of the countries are taken into consideration, according to 2021 data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.

The applications made for a certificate of good standing in the last 10 years reveal a significant increase in the number of doctors wanting to leave the country.

According to the TTB, while only 59 physicians applied for the document in 2012, the number surged to 90 in 2013, 118 in 2014 and 245 in 2016.

Starting from 2017, the number of applications increased more rapidly, reaching 482 in 2017, 802 in 2018, 1,057 in 2019, 931 in 2020 and 1,405 in 2021. Out of the 2,685 doctors who applied for the certificate last year, 1,341 were general practitioners and 1,344 were specialists.

Those who envision their future in Europe, Canada, the US, the United Arab Emirates or Qatar include not only doctors working for state or university hospitals but also self-employed physicians.

The reasons for the doctors’ departures include the failure of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to meet their demands for manageable workloads, increased security and better pay as well as incidents of physical violence against healthcare workers becoming a daily occurrence across the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan angered the medical community when he in March 2022 condemned an increasing number of Turkish doctors who were choosing to move to the private sector or go abroad for better job opportunities, saying they are free to go and that Turkey would find ways to make up for their loss.

After facing an angry reaction from the medical community, thousands of whose members took to the streets on the occasion of Medicine Day, marked every March 14 in Turkey, Erdoğan later praised the efforts of doctors, especially during the pandemic, and said, “Turkey is always in need of its doctors and is indebted to them.”

The doctors’ departures are a sad indictment of Erdoğan, who has burnished his own reputation by expanding universal health care over his 20 years in power. But the strains of the overhauls wrought by Erdoğan, in addition to those brought by the pandemic and increasing inflation, have undermined the very professionals on whom the health system depends.

There are frequent reports about long waiting periods before crucial surgeries due to the insufficient number of doctors in some hospitals.

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