Amendments to Ministry of Health legislation that allow private hospitals to recruit foreign doctors to reduce the shortage of doctors in Turkey came into force last Sunday.
In an interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Nijat Alishev -- a physician assistant from Azerbaijan who specializes in radiology and works at the İstanbul University Çapa Hospital -- praised the recent health legislation which would help the current shortage of doctors, adding that “the legislation will enable [hospitals] to employ enough doctors to meet demand.”
However, Alishev, who came to Turkey in 2002 after he was admitted to the faculty of medicine at the University of Marmara, says that despite the legislation providing huge opportunities for foreign doctors, he was planning to return to Azerbaijan after completing his education as he faced various challenges, including local doctors who appeared to be competing against foreign doctors in Turkey.
Alishev thinks that compared to local Turkish doctors, foreign doctors’ rights are still not up to par in Turkey as foreign doctors cannot earn the same as local doctors. “As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, equal work deserves equal pay. If I am doing the same job as a Turkish doctor, they need to pay me the same amount,” said Alishev. According to the Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.”
According to Turkish health legislation, foreign doctors are not considered to be permanent staff members so they are not provided with employment benefits such as health insurance and a pension. Public hospitals are currently not allowed to employ foreign specialists, though they do employ foreign physician assistants who do not receive any pay at all.
“Foreign doctors should be on the permanent staff of all educational institutions attached to the Higher Education Board [YÖK]. However, they are deprived of their rights, making them unpaid workers who work for the benefit of the state,” Alishev said.
The Turkish government does not provide foreign doctors with permanent staff benefits due to the absence of regulations in the health field, analysts say. Almost all foreign doctors know of the gaps in Turkish health legislation before coming to Turkey. Foreigners who cannot obtain a good medical education in their home countries feel obliged to come to Turkey for better education and medical experience.
“If I could get a better education and medical experience in Azerbaijan, do you think I would have come to Turkey? Of course not. I came because I had no choice, and now the other side [the government] is abusing my labor. This is against human rights,” said Alishev .
Foreign doctors who come to Turkey for medical education and training are mainly from the Turkic republics -- such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan -- as well as from Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and some Balkan countries. As they are not paid at public hospitals and medical centers, most of them work in private hospitals in their spare time just to earn their keep.
Foreign doctors ‘in competition with’ local doctors
A recent healthcare workers’ union study revealed that there are 663 patients to one doctor in Turkey. In state hospitals, this figure is 1,084 patients to one doctor. Although there is a considerable shortage of doctors in Turkey, local doctors say Turkey should not seek a solution to this problem through recruiting foreign doctors but focus on increasing the pool of local doctors instead.
However, Ali Malkoç, a Turkish physician assistant who spoke to Sunday’s Zaman, dismissed this opinion, expressing his welcome to foreign doctors. “I’m not happy because I am not rewarded for my work. Private hospitals are exploiting local doctors’ labor in accordance with their interests by importing cheaper foreign doctors. But we should not struggle by fighting with our foreign counterparts,” said Malkoç.
The Azerbaijani doctor Alishev said the legislation would not solve the difficulties that foreign physician assistants are currently encountering as it only takes into account foreign specialists who are willing to work at private hospitals. “This legislation will not heal the wounds of foreign doctors, especially physician assistants, working at public hospitals as the legislation is only for foreign specialists,” Alishev said adding, “I am working here at the Çapa hospital without any pay or insurance, and the legislation will not change my situation.”
Private hospitals have been accused of planning to lower Turkish doctors’ salaries by importing foreign doctors since these doctors are willing to settle for less due to the lower cost of labor in their home country.
“They [Turkish doctors] are right. If I were in their shoes, I would oppose [foreign doctors] coming to Turkey as well. If a foreign doctor were to come and reduce the price of my labor, I would be against that, too,” Alishev said.