Independent on Sunday - Half of graduate doctors leave to work abroad – MAM study - 25/3/2007

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Half of graduate doctors leave to work abroad – MAM study
by Juan Ameen

Fifty per cent of medical graduates leave the island to continue studying or work abroad but only 7.5 per cent return, according to a recent study carried out by the Medical Association of Malta.

The study was carried out among the doctors listed in the medical register – a total of 328.

Out of the doctors remaining in Malta, 17.7 per cent are general practitioners and another 6.8 per cent work full time in private practice.

Another 10.9 per cent work in health centres but 62.7 per cent of doctors working at St Luke’s Hospital are leaving the country to work abroad.

Between 70 and 80 per cent of doctors who graduated in 1999 left Malta to study and work abroad; over half the medical graduates start applying for jobs overseas as soon as they complete their obligatory stint as housemen, said MAM president Stephen Fava.

Salaries in the UK – which are at least four or five times those in Malta – is one of the reasons why doctors are opting to leave for the UK. The basic salary of a junior doctor in Malta ranges between Lm4,000 and Lm5,000 pa, which increases if the doctor works a 58-hour week. On the other hand, junior doctors in the UK earn about £45,000 (Lm28,000).

Dr Fava pointed out that the full extent of the brain drain will only be felt after five years.

Furthermore, he said, since Malta joined the EU, 60 per cent of the doctors registered in 1997, 1999 and 2001 have left Malta.

Dr Fava explained that the majority of doctors look for jobs in the UK. “However, they also find work in the US and other European countries.”

There is an even greater demand for doctors in the UK since the government closed applications for doctors from non-EU member countries.

Maltese doctors have an added asset here as they have an excellent reputation and there is no language problem, said Dr Fava.

However, Minister for Health Louis Deguara pointed out that the figures quoted by MAM must be taken into perspective.

The figures in the MAM study do not refer to the dates used in the study, said Dr Deguara.

“However, the issue of doctors leaving the island is not a new one and has been going on for many years. One may perhaps remember that in 1977, at the time of the doctors’ dispute, doctors had to work for two years with the government as by the middle of the second year (courses were then every two years) there were not enough doctors to run the service,” he explained.

Furthermore, he said, it is very obvious that a higher proportion of doctors working in hospital go overseas to study a particular area of specialisation, which was only available overseas.

This is why the government is planning to introduce formal postgraduate training in “hospital specialities”, the minister said.

“However, it will still be necessary for doctors to go overseas for training as the small size of our population does not offer the necessary breadth to achieve specialisation,” said Dr Deguara.

He added that there has been a net increase of 162 doctors working at St Luke’s Hospital over the past 10 years, between 1996 and 2006, even though 50 per cent left for training.

“Doctors who are leaving the island are almost all junior doctors going abroad for specialist training,” said Dr Deguara.

He also pointed out that there was a significant increase in the number of graduate doctors due to the government’s decision in 2001 to offer the medicine course annually without any numerus clausus.

According to a research paper presented in November 2006 titled “Brain Drain and Inequality Across the Nations” by Frédéric Docquier, Malta is one of the countries that is most affected by the medical brain drain to other EU member States.

Ironically, Malta is ranked with other African countries as one of the most affected along with The Gambia, Cyprus, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Seychelles, Ghana, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya.

Malta came in as the tenth highest country (57.6 per cent) suffering from brain drain in countries with over 0.25 million residents.

Guyana ranked first with the highest brain drain at 89 per cent, followed by Jamaica with 85.1 per cent.

These statistics seem to confirm a trend that appeared in older studies.

According to a survey carried out in 2005 by three medical students Matthew Fenech, David Falzon, and Adam Falzon, as part of the first ever medical student research competition held in Malta, over a quarter of Maltese doctors are currently living and working abroad.

The study investigated the career path of a sample of Maltese doctors. Since 1970, 1,029 men and women have graduated from the medical school; 8.6 per cent of the total number of graduates participated in this study.

Twenty-nine per cent of the respondents currently live in the UK, USA and Canada, while the rest live in Malta; only two of the doctors living abroad said they would return to pursue a career here.

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