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Doctor shortage reaching crisis, study warns

DPA/The Local · 3 Sep 2010, 11:49

Published: 03 Sep 2010 11:49 GMT+02:00

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The German Medical Association (BÄK) and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians (KBV) announced the results of a study showing that medical care is becoming harder to find in some parts of the country, particularly rural areas.

The study made it clear “that the doctor shortage is not a phenomenon anticipated for some time in the future, but is an urgent threat,” said KBV head Andreas Köhler.

Older doctors are retiring with no one to replace them, the associations said in Berlin. The average age of doctors in 2009 was 51.9 years.

Many doctors are going to study overseas, and the growing number of women doctors means that there are fewer full time medical practitioners, as women tend to work shorter hours for reasons such as having children. More than 60 percent of medical students in 2008 were female.

“The gaps in outpatient and GP medical care are getting ever larger,” a statement by the two associations said.

By 2020, some 51,774 doctors will need to be replaced in outpatient care facilities, among them 23,768 general practitioners.

In 2009, the state of Saxony-Anhalt was short 133 general practitioners and Lower Saxony short 219.

BÄK vice president Frank Ulrich Montgomery said: “Barely anyone still doubts that we find ourselves on the road to waiting lists for medicine. Specialists including gynaecologists, eye doctors, dermatologists and neurologists all face shortages.

In hospitals, about 5,000 positions were unfilled, the groups said. A decade from now, nearly 20,000 senior physicians and head physicians will have retired.

Essentially, there are simply not enough medical students graduating and many of those who do travel overseas after their studies, the study found.

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Roughly 50,000 high school graduates apply each year for the 10,000 first-year medical degree places. Nearly one-sixth of students between 2003 and 2008 finished their courses. Of those who do complete the degree, many go travelling and work overseas.

In 2009, some 2,486 German doctors went abroad.

Furthermore, the next generation of doctors had very different expectations from their older colleagues, putting more emphasis on free time and quality of life, meaning they would not work such long hours, Köhler said.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:48 September 3, 2010 by anurag_bagaria
No wonder, even being in Frankfurt (no idea about the situations in rural areas) I had to wait for 3 weeks for an appointment with a dentist as I was a "new customer". This is just ridiculous.
15:16 September 3, 2010 by crmohanty
Being EU's leading memeber and Europe's largest economy , Germany should also lead in all round health care. Lagging behind in medical facilities, availability of Doctors and allied health care facilities are not acceptable as far as Germany is concerned. The German think tank should do something and move fast in this regard.
18:00 September 3, 2010 by recherche
This issue must be resolved clearly. Internally. The answer is not to do what some have done and import plentiful cheap doctors from the developing World. First, Germans will suffer from poor outcomes - foreigners in medicine are here for the money not because they love Germans and, be sensible, are their medical selection processes and training facilities on a par with those in Germany? Second, it is a zero sum thing. If Germany takes doctors from an Asian/African country it does not mean that that country is overflowing with doctors that it seeks to export for the benefit of the rest of the World. Any Asian/African doctors that immigrate means there are are even fewer to help care in the desperate country of their birth. Bluntly, their migration is selfish.

A well organised and intelligent society will produce sufficient doctors from their own children. And those doctors will care, and serve the country well. If Germany finds that fewer young people are applying for medical school, it may be because remuneration and work conditions are sub-standard. The obvious question is: is the shortage of doctors also a reflection of lack of supply of other professionals like bankers, accountants, lawyers, etc, etc?

In healthcare, you can take advantage of youthful altruism only up to a point.
18:22 September 3, 2010 by slawek
As a response Germany could easily invest in preventive medicine. E.g. there is experiments with yearly MRI scans of populations in France.

There is something very strange with the entry into Medicine going on though. When I was working at the clinic in Heidelberg in the mid-90s, all the surgeons and doctors were above 180 cm tall. We used to joke about that at work because it was so obvious. The way I interpret it, they were all well nurtured during childhood. A sign of wealthy descent.

It's no surprise. In Germany, to become a practitioner it takes 6 years of studying. It's only 4 years in some other countries. No one of blue collar worker background would even consider such a long period of time only to study instead of earning money.

Maybe it would help if medicine students could start a regular life and earn regular money early on during their study. (The same problem occurs in other academic fields btw., e.g. it is even forbidden for students during their Master's thesis to receive a salary for their academic work.)
04:46 September 4, 2010 by gaurav singal
18:25 September 4, 2010 by DoubleDTown
Pay the doctors more. I hear from friends with practices they are limited in what they can charge. After paying staff, insurance, equipment, rent, utilities, etc. they aren't taking home a sum that one might think would be appropriate for the amount of training they have to go through and responsibility (i.e. risk of lawsuits) they have to undertake. It's nice to have equality in society, but doctors ought to be able to do better than insurance salesmen.
20:34 September 4, 2010 by smitherman
My local town clinic has all but closed because one doctor decided to open his own practice and accepts only privately insured patients while the other doctor hires himself out to a retirement home and local hospitals where he can make more and shed the inordinate paperwork plaguing the German medical system. My apotheker, my kids pediatrician and my son's dermatologist all have the same complaints about the unbelievable administrative demands made on their time by insurance companies who make a lot more money than these highly trained professionals we all depend upon.
16:25 September 8, 2010 by recherche
Screaming 'racist' at the drop of a hat is a tired old excuse for engaging in any discussion at all. But I would just like to make the point that the answer to Germany's doctor 'problem' [it is a problem many would like, look at UK] is to take a look at remuneration/lifestyle of young doctors as compared with other professionals. It is concerning to see people apparently battling with an impossible intellectual issue, when all you have to do is ask yourself whether you would prefer the lifestyle in the World of finance [for example] with that in medicine. In the former you may be called greedy, but do not forget you get astronomical salaries, and 9-to-5 hours. You do not get the scientific challenge and satisfaction of beneficence, but the wealth and civilised lifestyle makes up for that. Money makes up for lots of things in life. The elephant in the room however is that any society must organise itself to meet these issues rather than take the pathetically easy option of using imports in order to economise.
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