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Physician shortage poses challenges to health care

Recently there have been frequent discussions in the media about the lack of pediatricians, family physicians and clinical psychologists in different Estonian towns. This, inevitably, raises a question: what has caused such systemic shortage of physicians and what can be done to solve this situation?

According to the National Institute for Health Development, in 2018 there were approximately 4,600 practicing physicians in Estonia. There are 347 physicians per 100,000 persons, which is the average in the European Union. In addition, there are 1277 dentists, 8317 nurses, 456 midwives and 3609 other health care professionals in Estonia.

Physician shortage by regions and specialties 

The shortage of physicians is very uneven across regions. "Geographically, the shortage is the highest in Ida-Virumaa, Southern Estonia and the islands. For example, Ida-Viru Central Hospital also employs many physicians from third countries. Some physicians who are registered as general practitioners actually work as medical specialists. Small hospitals do not have enough specialized physicians to cover necessary on-duty shifts, which is why in some places physicians are constantly on-call at home - for example, gynecologists in Põlva and Kuressaare," explained Katrin Rehemaa, Secretary General of the Estonian Medical Association.

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