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15,000 doctors have left Turkey for better opportunities abroad: opposition MP

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The number of doctors in Turkey who have chosen to go abroad for better job opportunities and working conditions has reached 15,000, the Sözcü daily reported on Wednesday, citing a lawmaker from the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party.

Turhan Çömez, who is also a medical doctor and former ally of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, spoke to Sözcü on Wednesday about the increase in the number of doctors seeking to leave the country.

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.

Medical professionals 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 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.

According to Çömez, at least 15,000 physicians have left Turkey so far, and this will continue as long as health professionals in the country are not given the respect, personal rights and value they deserve. He also said the dream of most senior-year medical students in Turkey is to go abroad and pursue their profession there.

“I worked in the general surgery and emergency unit of a university hospital in the UK for 11 years. I did not witness any verbal or physical violence [toward doctors]. … However, not a day goes by without an attack on a health worker in Turkey. We have repeatedly raised this issue, but no effective measures have been taken,” Çömez said.

When asked about the requirements for Turkish physicians to continue a medical career in the European Union or the United States, Çömez said they need to pass the relevant language exam for accreditation in addition to written and oral medical exams, and meet the condition of graduating from a university recognized by the EU or the US.

“My annual salary in the UK was £120,000. After taxes, I would receive £7,000 (TL 294,000) a month. In Germany, a doctor earns at least €4,000 (TL 140,000) a month,” Çömez said.

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 for crucial surgeries due to the insufficient number of doctors in some hospitals.

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