Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public domain
Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public domain
Seeking to stem the flight of its young doctors, Albania passed a law requiring young medical graduates to work in their home country for up to five years, or until they have reimbursed their tuition fees.
As one of the poorest countries in Europe, the Balkan country cannot compete with the wages and working conditions of Germany or Italy, where many young Albanian doctors go to work.
Since the law came into effect on October 1, medical students requested its removal. They staged protests in front of the Ministry of Education and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Tirana.
They call the legislation “unconstitutional” and say it violates fundamental human rights principles of freedom of movement. They also claim that this deprives them of the opportunity to develop their training abroad.
The students took their case to the Constitutional Court and its decision is expected in the coming weeks.
“The new law violates the right of students to freely choose where they want to work,” fifth-year student Reant Kullaj told AFP.
“Students are motivated to stay (in Albania), but we cannot force them,” Kullaj said, surrounded by his peers in front of Tirana’s medical faculty.
While Germany has 4.5 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, Albania has only 1.9, one of the lowest ratios in Europe, according to official figures.
Over the past decade, more than 3,000 doctors have left this country of 2.8 million people, according to the Federation of Albanian Doctors in Europe. At least 1,000 of them work in Germany.
“It’s really a big problem,” warns ophthalmologist Pajtim Lutaj, who returned to Albania after training in Paris.
He believes that the training system should be improved, with final year students integrated into the public health sector.
Other medical professions face similar challenges: at least 16,000 nurses social workers have left Albania in the past four years, according to the National Nurses Association.
This year, the number of young people enrolling in nursing studies has increased again, said Gevio Tabaku, who runs UAlbania, a university enrollment data portal. This shows that these students want to use their diploma as a passport, he said.
“Torn between two loves”
Not everyone shares the medical student perspective.
Najada Como, professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Tirana, said that “the law aimed at curbing the departure of young doctors is not restrictive.”
“Working for a few years in a city, in a village, to serve your country, your people, is the most beautiful thing for a doctor,” Como said.
In September, Prime Minister Edi Rama said Albania “could not supply doctors to Germany.”
“We pay for them, we prepare them and Germany takes them,” he said.
Sixth year medicine student Kristi Tata said he felt “torn between two loves: majoring abroad and then returning to Albania or working in the country” after his studies.
Tata is awaiting the decision of the Constitutional Court before making his choice.
Specialized agencies advertise better opportunities abroad, thus exacerbating the dilemma.
“Work and contract guaranteed in the largest hospitals in Germany, possibility to choose the city and place of work in 2,000 cities in Germany. Salary from 2,800 to 3,900 euros ($3,000 to $4,150) monthly” , we promise.
“Career opportunities according to all European standards,” says another.
In a country where the average salary of a young public sector graduate is 1,000 euros per month, such offers are tempting.
But students say that, more than salary, better working conditions are essential to stay in Albania.
“Leaving is far from being a solution,” said Leada Tase, an ophthalmology intern at Tirana University Hospital.
“Albania needs doctors and the most important thing is to insist on improving the necessary conditions so that we can practice our profession in the best possible way.”
From November 1, Germany is introducing a new streamlined immigration system for workers from countries outside the European Union such as Albania.
The “Chancenkarte”, aimed at people with a potential rather than permanent employment contract, could make the decision to work abroad even more tempting.