Analysis. Romanian authorities struggling to stop the brain drain of medical staff

Newsroom 13/12/2016 | 11:22

The Romanian Healthcare Ministry recently announced that it will create 700 new positions in medical areas with severe personnel shortages. The local medical system is still seriously under-staffed, which makes recruitment very difficult.

Otilia Haraga

Romania is functioning with a shortage of 13,000 doctors, after many left the country in search of better pay, according to a statement by the Romanian authorities released mid-2016. Numerous vacancies in areas such as cardiology, ENT (ear, nose and throat) and intensive care have remained unfilled in many cities. There are counties where the deficit of doctors reaches as much as 50 percent.

Recruiters are aware of this complicated situation, which directly affects patients and the quality of the medical services they receive. “The deficit does not lie in vacancies, because the number of job offers in the medical sector is high and continually growing. It lies in the number and availability of medical specialists applying for these jobs,” Catrinel Hagivreta, founder and CEO of MEDIjobs, tells BR.

The drain of medical staff has been going on for years and it does not look likely to stop any time soon. The authorities know this, but the measures they are taking are ineffective to stop the effects.

“There is a hemorrhage of doctors; we will have a massive problem with the doctor exodus. In no other sector is a person more important than in medicine. There are cities in which entire medical areas are not represented, because they simply do not have doctors,” said Vlad Voiculescu, Romanian healthcare minister.

At the moment, no county in Romania has fully filled the vacancies for doctors. Some of these jobs are being advertised even for the third time, while other positions are covered by doctors doing overtime.

What is even more concerning is that opportunities for medical staff abroad abound, especially since other countries are recruiting aggressively from Romania. For instance, the largest doctor recruitment company in Great Britain announced that it intends to hire up to 1,000 doctors over the next four years, from countries like Romania, Hungary, Portugal and Spain, to cover the UK’s deficit of specialists, according to the Daily Mail, quoted by Agerpres newswire.

A doctor brought from these countries will cost Great Britain just GBP 500 per day, compared to GBP 650, the cost of a doctor trained in Great Britain.

The UK healthcare system has also launched a pilot-program through which it will bring doctors from Poland, Romania, Spain and Italy to cover the lack of specialists in Lincolnshire. If the program is successful, it will be expanded to other regions.

The Romanian Healthcare Ministry recently announced its intention to supplement the number of jobs available in state medical units by 700. Some 500 new jobs will be created in the ambulance service and 200 for resident doctors. The total number of positions in state-financed units will go up to 18,196, according to Agerpres.

“This hike is also triggered by the need to build teams, so that the response times both at the headquarters and the ambulance stations are respected,” said officials.

In the case of some ambulance services, the proportion of doctors, nurses and ambulance workers compared to the population is 90 percent lower than the national average.

But this is not the only place where the medical system faces staff shortages. According to Hagivreta, only six doctors specialize in laboratory medicine every year at the Faculty of Medicine in Bucharest.

Meanwhile, on the MEDIjobs platform alone, there was a list of approximately 15 openings that needed filling for this job in just six months.

“The greatest challenges in medical recruitment are caused by the lack of consistency between the yearly number of new graduates looking for a job and the market needs – both in the case of public and private employers,” the CEO tells BR.

At the end of September, more than 24,407 doctors were registered on the recruitment platform Bestjobs.eu. Out of the total, 5,607 were dentists, 1,267 optometrists, 188 were laboratory doctors, 110 labor medicine doctors, 66 were ORL doctors, and the remaining 17,169 were specialized in other areas.

Apart from doctors, 56,851 nurses, 1,483 dental nurses, 9,835 pharmacists, 1,696 pharmacy nurses, 22,665 medical representatives and 1,415 sales representatives in the pharma/medical sector were also listed on the website.

“The recruitment of medical staff is very delicate and has a strong social impact. In this sector, the performance or lack thereof makes its mark directly on patient health,” says Hagivreta.

This is why candidates at MEDIjobs have to go through a vetting process, not only from a professional point of view but also in terms of innate and acquired abilities.

The CEO explains that the recruitment of a doctor is validated when that doctor proves communication skills, both with the patients who will recommend that doctor as well as the team that he or she cannot do without.

“We recruit a lot using recommendations from members of the community, who are very active. We register a monthly average of 12,000 visitors to the platform,” says Hagivreta.

The preferences of medical staff also weigh a great deal in the recruitment process. In these cases, the reputation of the employer matters a great deal. According to Hagivreta, sometimes candidates are not even interested in learning what the salary is, and bluntly refuse to find out more about a job opportunity at certain medical companies.

“The clinics that understand that the best medical specialists are attracted to those that have a positive employer brand in the community are the ones that will obtain the best applicants more quickly and easily,” she says.

Doctors are interested in both the financial aspects as well as the development perspectives within the clinic. “The medical community is very well informed and its members communicate a great deal. This is why many clinics lack employees while others do not have problems in this respect, says Hagivreta. She gives as an example a recent experience with a doctor that MEDIjobs was in the process of recruiting, who knew more about the employer’s development plans than the recruitment company did, which made direct contact with the general manager to obtain the most important information.

In terms of professional development, there is a trend among young medical graduates to opt for areas such as dermatology, ophthalmology and gynecology. “One reason for this is that these areas allow pretty fast professional development with substantial financial benefits that one can obtain also by opening a private practice,” notes the CEO.

MEDIjobs intends to centralize and promote all these data to decision-makers in the medical system across the country, “in the hope that we will manage to put forward several solutions for solving some problems in the system,” says Hagivreta.

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