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Strict criteria a problem for Ukraine refugees hoping to work in healthcare

Nurses working in a hospital setting.
Nurses working in a hospital setting. Source: ERR

The employment of war refugees from Ukraine with medical educations in the Estonian healthcare system is more difficult than in other fields, as the healthcare field is subject to strict qualification and language requirements. Estonia is currently most in need of nurses, but employing nurses with foreign qualifications would still require several years of additional training.

Of the war refugees from Ukraine currently registered with the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund (EUIF), 115 have nursing degrees and 74 are doctors. Hospitals are hoping that refugees with medical educations can help relieve the nursing shortage affecting the Estonian healthcare system.

"We have a pretty big shortage of nurses," said Katre Zirel, head of nursing at North Estonia Medical Center (PERH). "We're short by more than 100-120 positions. I can't say that these could all be nurses from Ukraine, as the current legal framework will not permit them to provide healthcare services as they are not listed in the [national] register as nurses."

The first course aimed at war refugees from Ukraine with medical educations has already begun at Tallinn Health Care College (TTK). Also in the works are plans to create additional courses in cooperation with Estonian employers that would train people exactly in accordance with the needs of specific positions.

This training, however, would still not grant someone the legal right to work in their professional field.

"The only way they can work as nurses is if they come study in our higher education curriculum," explained TTK rector Ülle Ernits. "This is the only place where they can receive a higher education and where they will be entered in Estonia's national register of healthcare professionals upon graduation."

This fall, TTK intends to roll out an accelerated curriculum for nurses who have completed vocational nursing training in Ukraine. Following the completion of this curriculum, they would be considered to be on equal footing with Estonian nurses.

"The nursing program is 3.5 years long, but if people come who have vocational education-level nursing education, then what will happen is that their curriculum, work experience and additional training will be assessed, after which an individual curriculum will be drawn up for them," Ernits explained. "But let's see if we can get this group together, because I imagine these people may have other goals, including going back home."

Certain alleviations aimed at retaining people in the healthcare field are being provided for in legislation as well.

"We're drawing up various legislative amendments as well," said Katre Trofimov, chief specialist at the Health System Development Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs. "One of these is the dropping of state fees for individuals who have received international protection who want to register as healthcare workers. Preparations are also underway that would allow for limited participation in healthcare services."

Nearly 300 war refugees with healthcare qualifications have arrived in Estonia, the majority of whom are nurses. According to EUIF data, to date, 74 war refugees from Ukraine have found work in the healthcare sector, primarily in support roles: as aids, assistants or in some other capacity in healthcare settings.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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