Officials and experts say the arrangement could be mutually beneficial for doctors in need of work and a nation in need of more doctors.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 02/12/13
Turkey recently extended an invitation to Greek doctors. [AFP]
Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu's invitation to Greek doctors to come and work in Turkey is showing signs that it will pay dividends for both nations.
The economic crisis in Greece has caused many people to look abroad for work, and recent reforms in Turkey's healthcare sector have increased the demand for doctors.
"Some 7,000 doctors in Greece are searching for jobs abroad. And we need them. Our doors are wide open to Greece's 7,000 doctors. I invite them to serve this country and nation with their knowledge," Muezzinoglu said.
Turkey currently faces a shortage of medical personnel, as there is only one doctor for every 663 people in private and public hospitals combined. In the World Health Organisation's European region, of the 44 nations for which data is available, Turkey is one of only four in which there are fewer than two doctors per 1,000 people.
Konstantinos Ifantis, an international relations scholar at Istanbul Kadir Has University, said Muezzinoglu's call for Greek doctors is politically and symbolically significant, considering that such a statement would have been nearly unthinkable a few years ago.
"It shows that some of the taboos are retreating from public discourse," Ifantis told SETimes.
Muezzinoglu made an official visit to Thessaloniki to meet with the city's Chamber of Doctors. The parties agreed on establishing a joint commission to identify the basic needs and build the necessary infrastructure for more Greek doctors to work in Turkey's private hospitals.
"As far as we have been informed, almost 1,000 doctors began Turkish courses in Thessaloniki. I assume they will have a good progress within a couple of months. They will be mainly working in Izmir, Istanbul and Thrace region, but the demand will also determine their location," Muezzinoglu told reporters.
Turkey's embassy in Athens announced that in recent weeks, 10 Greek doctors applied to learn the procedures for working in Turkey. They included cardiologists and medical professors.
Of the approximately 600 foreign doctors currently working in Turkey, 24 are Greeks employed at private hospitals. The parallels between medical education in the two countries is an advantage for mutual understanding, but Greek doctors are obliged to pass a Turkish language test within a year of starting work in Turkey.
"I can think that this call has no risks," Ifantis said. "However, it has great technical difficulties, especially the language obstacle, but if the offer is sincere then this is something that can be easily overcome."
According to the current law, no foreigners can work in public hospitals. However, a statutory decree issued two years ago allows foreign doctors and nurses to be employed in the private sector if they obtain a residence and a work permit, vocational responsibility insurance and a document of equivalence for their diplomas to be in line with Turkey's university standards.
It is not yet clear how many Greek doctors will come to work in Turkey, but Muezzinoglu's offer could be a boost to Greece, given its ongoing economic difficulties.
A recent report from the Thessaloniki University showed that since 2010 almost 120,000 professionals -- including doctors -- left Greece to search for jobs.
Sukru Hatun, former general secretary of the Turkish Medical Doctors Association (TTB) and currently a professor of paediatrics at the medicine faculty of Kocaeli University, said the offer is meant to show professional solidarity with peers in Greece who face serious financial problems.
Hatun said Turkey is calling for Greek doctors because the latest health sector reforms have led more people to seek health services on an extensive basis, requiring an increase in personnel.
The reforms improved the public's access to inexpensive health services, while for some illnesses like cancer and cardiac problems, patients can have operations in private hospitals without paying any costs. Children up to age 18 also have access to health services free of charge.
But the system has been criticised by professional groups and some hospitals that say the quality of services has decreased considerably because of the increasing number of patients and because the state has not provided enough support to boost hospitals' infrastructure.
"Without making calm assessments about the deficiencies of the healthcare reform that brought enormous burden over the hospitals' infrastructure without any significant financial incentives for the doctors, the arrival of Greek doctors will bring no added value and solution for Turkey's need for healthcare staff," Hatun told SETimes.
What steps should be taken to make it easier for foreign doctors to take jobs in Turkey? Share your thoughts in the comments section.