Turkey’s Health Ministry is calling on retired doctors aged between 65 and 72 to serve in state hospitals in order to address a growing shortage of physicians in the country, the NTV news outlet reported.
The ministry asked retired doctors to file applications by Oct. 18 after it failed to appoint a sufficient number of doctors at state hospitals, with posts in some specialties such as pediatric hematology and oncology, intensive care, pediatric surgery and pulmonology remaining vacant.
Following the submission of applications, retired doctors will be appointed by the ministry to serve at state hospitals, NTV said.
Turkey has been dealing with a shortage of doctors for several years as more and more doctors leave the country due to what many say is a heavy workload, incidents of violence at hospitals and insufficient pay.
The ministry’s move to call retired doctors back to work has attracted criticism from the medical community, with critics saying the ministry should first address the problems of young doctors and stop their exodus abroad.
“While the youngest and most dynamic doctors move abroad, experienced and middle-aged doctors are obliged to work at private hospitals. The ministry is calling on doctors over 65 to help the state-run hospitals. This move is aimed at saving the day rather than addressing the problem,” the Tabip-Sen labor union said in a statement in its X social media account.
Retired doctors showed little interest when the ministry made a similar call for them to return last year, with only 21 retired doctors agreeing to return to work at state hospitals.
Statistics from the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) showed 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.
Turkey has the fewest number of doctors in Europe when the populations of the countries are taken into account, 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.
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.