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In need of care

Addressing the shortage of Swiss doctors

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Around 30% of doctors practising in Switzerland have foreign qualifications (Keystone)

Around 30% of doctors practising in Switzerland have foreign qualifications


Universities have been announcing plans to boost the number of places to study medicine following the decision to inject millions more into medical training. But why is there such a shortage of Swiss doctors in Switzerland?

Switzerland has by all accounts, a well-working, although very expensive, health system. At first glance, there would seem to be enough doctors.

With 4.0 doctors per 1,000 of the population, Switzerland comes in at 7th on the 2013 OECD listings for the number of doctors per 1,000 of the population. This puts it on a par with Germany and France - and far outstrips the Anglo-American world.

But scratch under the surface and you will see that around 30% of doctors practising in Switzerland have foreign qualifications. This rises to 40% in hospitals.

This is because the country itself doesn’t produce enough home-trained doctors – a situation the government wants to change.

It says 1,300 new medics are needed per year by 2025 to ensure health care provision in the country. Currently 900 a year are being trained.

And this comes, as the government said in a statement earlier this year, “… particularly against the background of having potentially more difficult access to foreign skilled workers following the adoption of the mass immigration initiative”.

Approved by voters in February 2014, the initiative foresees the reintroduction of quotas on European Union nationals, a move that is expected to hit the healthcare sector hard.

The government has therefore announced a one-off CHF100 million ($101 million) cash injection for medical training over the period 2017-2020.

There has been a recent flurry of announcements from existing medical faculties that they would boost numbers (Zurich and Bern) and from other players who want to get involved, such as the universities of St Gallen and Lucerne, both of which do not yet have medical faculties.

The government is mindful that change has to be sustainable. This much was noted in a wide-ranging report by the interior and education ministries. Alternatives, such as having medical schools, like in the United States or the United Kingdom, have been assessed.

In Switzerland, medical training takes place over six years, divided into a Bachelors and a Masters. In the US, however, the clinical part of a doctor’s training takes place in medical schools that are affiliated to teaching hospitals and these schools are open to people with a Bachelors in (normally) biology or other medical-related field.

This proposal, however, has met with low acceptance among the Swiss medical community.  

What is your view on the Swiss medical system? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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