A shortage of trained medical doctors is felt throughout Lithuania, but the problem is particularly acute in small provincial hospitals. Some municipalities have offered to pay for their medical training, but even that does not always work.
Vita Lučkauskienė has recently finished her training as a physician of internal diseases and started working in the hospital of Kretinga, western Lithuania, last month.
Unmoved by prospects of pursuing a career in some major hospital of Vilnius or Kaunas, the young doctor has decided to raise her family closer to where she is from.
“In Kretinga, the doctor-patient relationship is closer, because the same patients return,” she tells LRT TV. “The staff is great, nurses are very professional, so far so good, there's a lot of work.”
Lučkauskienė says that Kretinga Hospital has all the necessary medical equipment and there are plenty of opportunities for her to grow professionally. In a bigger hospital, she might be stuck helping in an emergency room.
One thing she misses, however, is having more people her age to work with. The average age of her colleagues is currently 50 years and, like many hospitals in smaller towns, the one in Kretinga is cannot fill all the specialist positions.
“We are particularly short on neurologists and cardiologists,” says Ilona Volskienė, the chief doctor of Kretinga Hospital, adding that she recently managed to find an endocrinologist.
To help alleviate the problem, the Municipality of Kretinga have offered to cover the fees of two medical residents, a gynecologist and a urologist.
“We pay for the studies of these residents and then they have to work here for five years,” explains Kretinga Mayor Antanas Kalnius.
One four-year residency costs 24,000 euros. If the trained doctor afterwards breaks the contract and goes to work elsewhere, he or she has to reimburse the expenses and pay a fine which amounts to one-third of the sum.
However, even the sharp penalties do not always stop doctors from leaving. Kalnius says that a cardiologist left Krestinga Hospital in June and had to pay the fine, and a surgeon handed in his resignation on September 1.
Medical professionals are usually lured by bigger hospitals in Lithuania or abroad that can offer better pay. Nurses are also in short supply.