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Finland's public clinics face acute physician shortage

Most medical school graduates choose to specialise or work in the more lucrative private sector, creating backlogs in the public health system. 

Lääkäri kävelee terveyskeskuksen käytävällä.
File photo of health centre corridor. Image: Mikael Kokkola / Yle

Finland’s public healthcare system is in desperate need of more doctors, but it is having trouble recruiting them.

At the end of 2018, some six percent of physician vacancies in public clinics were unfilled. Kainuu, in eastern Finland, had the most acute shortage, with 20 percent of positions empty. More than 220 full-time positions are waiting to be filled in Finland, with experts estimating that the country would need another 200 general practitioners to meet demand.

The city of Tampere recently offered a health centre physician a monthly salary of 5,000 euros only to be bested by a private provider’s compensation package of 8,000 euros. Medical school graduates starting out their careers in health centres can expect to earn 3,340 euros. Overall, physicians’ average salaries in Finland are in the 6,500-euro range.

Sote dents health centres' image

Opportunities for professional development and specialisation , however, carried more relative weight than salary, according to a joint study by the universities of Tampere and Eastern Finland as well as the Finnish Medical Association (FMA).

Kati Myllymäki of the FMA said many young doctors perceive public healthcare as too demanding, with physicians pressed for time while increasingly assisting patients with multiple needs who were previously treated in hospitals.

A quarter of all physicians at health centres are medical students completing their mandatory nine-month terms of service before moving on to their field of specialisation. In practice, this means that once they learn the ropes, they usually move on.

Public healthcare centres’ image has meanwhile taken a hit recently in connection with the government’s failed social and healthcare reform programme.

Eino Solje, who vice-chairs an interest group for medical students, told Yle that politicians have been giving public health care a bad reputation, further sapping budding doctors' enthusiasm for work in the public service.

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