Pishoy Gouda, a final year medical student at NUI Galway, was the principal investigator of this study. Photo by Aengus McMahon. Repro free.
Mar 12 2015 Posted: 10:24 GMT

Report on Ireland’s Medical Brain Drain

Thursday, 12 March, 2015: A study published today shows that 88% of Irish medical students are intending or are contemplating migration, when they qualify. Led by NUI Galway, this is the largest study of its kind in Ireland, and was published in the open access journal Human Resources for Health. This study included over 2,000 medical students in Ireland, of whom 1,519 were Irish, studying across the country’s six medical schools. The main reasons cited for possible migration included perceptions regarding career opportunities (85%), working conditions in Ireland (83%) and lifestyle (80%).

Pishoy Gouda, a final year medical student at NUI Galway, was the principal investigator of the study. “We have known for some time, from previous research, that a significant percentage of qualified doctors are leaving the country. This research confirms this, with 34% definitely planning to migrate, but also shows a widespread culture of ‘intention to emigrate’ with a further 53% contemplating it. These migration intentions are a major concern to the sustainability the Irish healthcare workforce.”

“This outflow of qualified personnel may represent a financial loss to the Irish healthcare system, when one considers the costs involved in training medical students, the cost of recruiting replacements and the service delivery constraints if replacements cannot be found.”

Nearly two-thirds of students identified that they did not have a great understanding of the training following graduation and a third of the students surveyed also indicated that they had a poor understanding of how the Irish healthcare system worked.

According to Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, Senior Lecturer in Social and Preventive Medicine at NUI Galway, who supervised the study: “Interventions are needed including providing a better understanding of career structures and opportunities, and of the changing organisation of the health service. Changes are needed in order to retain medical graduates and attract those who have already emigrated to return.”

As the shortage of doctors is so great in Ireland, Pishoy Gouda, the lead author suggests that postgraduate opportunities should also be made more accessible to non-EU students who are trained in Ireland. Current European working laws make it difficult for non-EU graduates of Irish medical schools to obtain Irish intern or pre-registration/foundation year positions; they are therefore lost to the system immediately upon graduation.

“These statistics come at a time when Ireland is facing a significant shortfall in physicians. Because of this outflow of human capital, we are having to go to huge efforts to attract doctors from other countries, including developing nations. Not only is this a problem for Irish recruitment, but we need to be mindful of WHO guidelines on international recruitment and taking skilled personnel away from countries that have medical staff shortages”, said Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan.

This research helps to define appropriate interventions at the medical undergraduate level, with the aims of enhancing student understanding of the Irish health service, career and training opportunities, and in the longer term, enhancing retention.

Alongside NUI Galway, the report was co-authored by staff at the Department of Public Health, HSE West, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University of Limerick, University College Cork, University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

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