Bart Eckhaut is the lead commentator.
There are some striking similarities between a shortage of teachers and a shortage of doctors. The latter receives less attention than the former, although the shortage of physicians, and certainly also of general practitioners, is by no means new. It leads to patients being stopped and sometimes to dangerously long waiting lists for some treatments. The influx of doctors from other countries cannot make up for the shortage.
The first analogy with teacher shortages lies in the demographic source of the problem. In the field of education, the history of under-education is due to the aging of the faculty, which is at odds with the advancement of larger groups of students. An aging population and influx from the profession are also increasing in physician practice. They are at odds with the aging population as well, and so will need more care on average. Younger doctors, mostly women, than in the past have a different, more balanced view of work-life balance, which means they do less work.
The frustrating thing is that the government reacted too late to the expected and completely expected phenomena. Too late. For a very long time, fairly narrow quotas were set for those who wanted to study medicine or for those who wanted to work as a doctor. Only now have Flemish Minister of Education Ben Wittes (Northern Virginia) and Federal Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Voruet) able to open the gates a little wider in their field. We will not feel the impact of these interventions until a few years later. It’s too late again.
Another similarity between the shortage of teachers and doctors is the change in society’s view of both professions. Just like a “master” or a “teacher,” the doctor also lost a great deal of his status in society. This makes a difference in the attractiveness of the profession. Moreover, both the teacher and the doctor, as the first-line interlocutors for many people, are often faced with social changes or problems that lie outside their area of expertise and require a lot of work time.
Just as it is for the teacher, so too must a reassessment be made for the physician. Minister Vandenbroek’s new deal is a good start, though it’s also a bit late. But medical education itself also offers part of the solution. Because while the shortage of general practitioners and some other specialties is increasing, there seems to be a surplus in other specialties. Thus supply and demand can be better matched. But – and it is a sore point – the widening gap in wage expectations for GPs and some specialties will also have to be closed to some extent.
It is certainly better than the seemingly simple idea of eliminating all classes for aspiring doctors. Because this could lead to the unfortunate side effect of medical overconsumption, thus derailing already sharply high healthcare costs.
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