Over half of new doctors leaving Malta - 16/10/2006

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Over half of new doctors leaving Malta
Cynthia Busuttil

Over 62 per cent, or 166, of hospital doctors who were registered by the Malta Medical Council between 1994 and 2003 have left the island and only 9.1 per cent, or 24, have since returned.

The Medical Association of Malta will shortly publish data from a study into the whereabouts of 322 doctors out of the 328 who were registered during that decade. These are the doctors who graduated between 1992 and 2001 and finished their training two years later.

More than 50 per cent of doctors in general, which include both hospital doctors and GPs, who completed their two-year houseman training between 1994 and 2003 left the island, while just 7.5 per cent have returned.

The study was carried out by association general secretary Martin Balzan and medical student Tessa Bugeja.

"The situation is that about 45 per cent of doctors - more than 50 per cent of whom are hospital doctors - are leaving and not returning," he said.

"The shortage of doctors is all around, including in the mainstream specialties," he said.

"The 24 doctors who have returned currently hold better positions than the 99 who remained here. There are two possible explanations: either doctors trained abroad have better local career prospects, or a more likely explanation is that doctors will only come back if they see realistic career prospects."

The only way to stop doctors from leaving and not returning is to offer them a better package - both from the financial point of view as well as working conditions, he maintained.

He also mentioned the importance of improving the existing postgraduate programmes and improving career prospects.

The 99 doctors who remained in Malta are those who serve in the emergency services.

"MAM is adamant that Malta should continue to develop specialist training programmes for doctors who decide to stay and serve the country. Without investment in medical human resources the newly built Lm200 million Mater Dei Hospital cannot reach its full potential".

Dr Balzan said the full brain drain of doctors who registered in 2003 had not yet been felt. He pointed out that most medical students go on to pursue a career in hospital, with only a minority becoming general practitioners.

In fact, the study shows that out of the 156 doctors who remained in Malta, 99 went to work in hospital and 57 became GPs (27 of whom were in full-time private practice).

Dr Balzan said the GP training scheme currently being planned is essential to revive interest in general practice.

The study points out that manpower shortages being faced by the US could shift the brain drain from Malta to that country from the UK.

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