Estonia is expanding admissions for medical residency programs from the previous 169 to 186, due to which the University of Tartu (TÜ) will be able to accept a record number of med school grads for medical specialist training. According to the state, the biggest shortages Estonia is currently facing are for family doctors and psychiatrists, two specialties for which admissions were increased the most.
After six years of medical school, future doctors must then decide what to specialize in during a four-year residency to follow. From the state's perspective, Estonia is most direly in need of more family doctors and psychiatrists, which is why the number of spots in the family doctor residency program was increased from 35 to 40, and the number of spots in psychiatry nearly doubled from 11 to 20.
"We'd previously weighed increasing [admissions] as well, but if we're seeing in previous years that these spots aren't being filled, then there's no point in expanding it too much all in one year either, said Heli Paluste, head of the Healthcare Unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs' Health System Development Department.
"Last year, the 35 spots we had ordered in family medicine were filled, and thus it made sense to increase this number as well," she added.
According to Ruth Kalda, professor of family medicine at TÜ's Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, interest in specializing in family medicine has been increasing each year, which is why admissions for family medicine residencies were expanded even further.
"In our field, you can also clearly see the tendency that some half are recent [med school] graduates, and half are those who have worked somewhere else for a few years beforehand," Kalda said. "And there's a fair number of those who have worked at health centers in our neighboring Finland, for example, and then return to Estonia and enter residency in family medicine."
"I am very glad that our overall number of residency spots has been increased and that attention has been given to those specialties facing very significant shortages, including psychiatry," North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) board member Terje Peetso said.
A quarter of psychiatric residency program spots are reserved for training pediatric psychiatrists, of which there is an especially acute shortage in Estonia.
If TÜ's previous experiences are anything to go by, however, they have not always managed to find sufficient numbers of applicants for family medicine and psychiatric residencies each year. It may be necessary to organize a round of followup admissions this year as well.
"University graduates have 40 fields to choose from," said Margus Lember, dean of TÜ's Faculty of Medicine. "They choose based on their interests, based on what is particularly dear to them." According to Lember, it's also common for someone for a med school grad not accepted to the residency program of their choice to wait a couple of years before trying again instead of choosing their runner-up specialty.
While it varies somewhat by year, each year, one in four or five med school graduates does not immediately enter a residency program, and either limit themselves to general practitioner level or go to Finland to work, for example.
Paluste said, however, that the state has no way of stopping young doctors from leaving the country.
"We can't exactly use any sort of restrictive measures under EU conditions," she said. "We have agreed within the EU that we have the principle of free movement."
A total of 146 students are graduating from med school at the University of Tartu this spring.
Editor: Aili Vahtla