A HEALTHY MIND

Turkey 2014 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: MEDICAL EDUCATION

With doctor numbers still wanting in Turkey's reformed healthcare system, the importance of educating new specialists has emerged as a pressing issue.

The combined effect of encouraging healthy private investment in the Turkish health sector with a burgeoning education scene has led to notable advances in medical education and research. With healthcare spending increasing by 30.6% per capita between 2002 and 2012, the impetus behind progress in the sector is obvious. This drive has been led by the all-encompassing Health Transformation Program, initiated in 2003 with a view to raising the standard of health services in Turkey to an acceptable international level. Implemented in a two-phased approach with funding from the World Bank and direction from the Ministry of Health (MoH), the program broadly improved healthcare provision in both rural and urban areas. Turkey's reputation for healthcare services has consequently spread to its neighbors in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Lower costs than many European destinations and with an ever-widening range of specialized procedures available, medical tourism is emerging as an important driver for the sector.

However, in order to cope with foreign visitors requesting complex cancer treatments or invasive bone marrow or spinal surgeries, as well as a growing trend in demand for cosmetic operations, Turkey's healthcare professionals have had to learn new skills and develop expertise in certain fields of medicine. Broad challenges face the expansion of medical education in Turkey, including poor coordination between teaching and service organizations and a centralized system suffering from a lack of funding and an underdeveloped policy on the matter. To meet this need, the country's major educational institutes are improving their medical research and instruction capabilities to ensure that a steady stream of capable doctors and nurses are available. Newcomers to the sector are finding niches that are not yet catered for, allowing rapid expansion in shorter periods.

One such institution is the research-focused Koç University, which will inaugurate its Health Sciences Campus in September of 2014. In the first phase, the campus will include 251 hospital beds, along with advanced facilities such as imaging centers, 10 operating theaters, intensive care units, and emergency services. The area of its primary focus will be oncology, genetics, and infectious diseases. The university's school of medicine offers three years of education in its campus in Rumelifeneri, with clinical studies taking place in the forthcoming campus. However, state universities in general lack the funding to train adequate numbers of doctors. The universities are receiving more applications than ever, but a dearth of permanent academic staff is limiting the potential of many schools. The 2013 official figures suggest that there was one medical professional for every 658 citizens, ultimately placing Turkey still below many developed and emerging markets.

To combat a lack of trained professionals, legislation from 2012 paved the way for foreign healthcare practitioners to work in private companies. “There have been 453 applications," explains Dr. Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, Minister of Health, in conversation with TBY. “Of these, 136 are specialized doctors, 219 general practitioners, 79 nurses, and one emergency medical technician."

The established Liv Hospital is a ready example of a private institution with educated staff performing complicated surgery. Through its 50 departments, experienced doctors encounter patients with neurological and oncology-related complaints, as well as carrying out micro-plastic surgery. The competitive salaries offered by private firms attract such doctors. The future for medical education in Turkey is uncertain, but with the government guaranteeing its commitment through supportive initiatives, reforms, and legislation, and a healthy dose of attention from private firms, the sector should continue to expand. Opportunity abounds for educational institutions willing to supplement state efforts to educate promising students.