Physicians were gathering these past 2 days for an annual conference in Tartu, where one of the topics of discussion was the language requirements of non-naturalized medical professionals.
A major concern in Estonia is the outflow of qualified doctors in search of better salaries. Another trend has been the replacement of those doctors by an influx from non-EU countries, primarily Russia and Ukraine.
The Medical Association is concerned that many of the new immigrant doctors can't speak Estonian. So far the inflow of immigrant professionals has been heaviest in Ida-Viru County, which has a large Russian-speaking population, but the association says the trend could be expanding.
While the Language Act requires physicians to be advanced speakers of Estonian, a Social Affairs Ministry mandate exempts immigrant MDs from this requirement.
Katrin Rehemaa, head of the Medical Association, takes issue with this conflict, although she admits that Ida-Viru County has a serious deficit of doctors.
In recent years, some 20 physicians have moved to Estonia from non-EU countries. The Medical Association can't say exactly how many have left Estonia, but the Health Board says 141 MDs requested professional certificates needed to work abroad last year. Since 2004, around 1,000 doctors have requested the certificates.
"But regarding the departure of our MDs, finding a solution to this problem is quite complicated. We have made our proposals. The Medical Association and the Health Care Professionals' Union believes exodus of doctors is the biggest problem of Estonian health care and it needs to be stopped.
And the only possible solution is to improving our job and pay conditions so that they are competitive with those of developed European countries,” said Rehemaa.