The Brain Drain of trained medical staff is being felt right across Central Europe. In Hungary, for instance, one consultant estimates there are three thousand vacancies in the health care field. So, while Western Europe is benefiting Central Europe is suffering. Blocking the medical brain drain is not easy when pay and conditions at home are poor but an Austrian-American initiative is doing its best to help. Kerry Skyring went along to a Vienna General Hospital to find out how...
Austrian doctors operate on a patient at Vienna's General Hospital. They're watched over by physicians from the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. They're brought here by the Open Medical Institute - not to tempt them away from their home countries but to give their skills an update and send them back. The concept began just after the fall of the iron curtain and one of its founders was the Hungarian born American philanthropist George Soros..
"It's quite remarkable that we now have 12 years and a network of doctors who don't lose touch with each other. It's an active network and that is where it fits into the work of the foundation...to create these networks and to make the knowledge available without borders to others as well."
The Soros foundation and the Austrian government fund the Open Medical Institute to the tune of one million euros each. That funding was ad-hoc but it's now been put on a permanent basis. It's primary aim is brain gain - transferring knowledge and experience between the former communist countries and the west through a series of seminars and internships. Director of the Open Medical Institute is Dr Wolfgang Aulitzky:
"It was a very special situation because the people in these countries are very well educated but due to this lack of exposure to the new technologies they were lacking experience and that was the situation in my view which is and was unique in our developed world."
In 1998 Laura Crickwell a newly trained Czech doctor was working at a hospital in Prague when she applied to attend seminars in Austria conducted by the Open Medical Institute. When she applied for leave to attend she was promptly sacked. She has some thoughts on why doctors don't stay down at the clinic."
"I think it's partially because the environment in the former social countries is not very friendly for doing research. It's much easier for people to be somewhere abroad where they are well paid and they have more opportunities to do the research plus they have a very inspiring environment."
Dr Crickwell went to the Open Medical Institute seminars in Austria and through them was offered an internship at University College Berkley in the United States. She's now back in Prague and heads a department at the prestigous Nusle Clinic:
"Actually this was a really great experience for me - to make my dream wish to be true. I was able to accomplish my research plan to study Hepatitis C epidemic and basically became one of the experts in Hep C in my country. When I turned back I got an NIH grant - it means I can continue in my research in my home country. I still have the contact with people from all around the world which also helps me a lot."
The Open Medical Institute hasn't set out to block the brain drain but it has found a way to help those who want to stay at home and at the same time stay in touch.
"The best way of doing this is really offering a hand and be available whenever they need help and support and that means multiple visits, multiple contacts and as I said whenever they need help and support to be available."
Over six thousand qualified physicians from the former communist countries of central and eastern Europe have already attended the Open Medical Institute. Some of them have packed their kit and taken flight to London or Boston - but many more still work in their local communities
The applause is for the Open Medical Institutes Goodwill ambassadors - the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. Each year they play benefit concerts in New York and Salzburg. The funds raised help doctors from developing nations get skills, training and support - and puts a bit of a plug in the medical brain drain.
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