An Expected System Obliging Tunisian Doctors to Work for 5 Years Before Emigrating

Ranya Turki | 2 years ago




Searching for professional opportunities and financial security in Europe, the United States, Canada or the Gulf, Tunisian doctors, especially the youth, are emigrating in increasing numbers for better work conditions.

Since Zine el-Abidine ben Ali was toppled in the 2011 revolution, health services have long suffered like other sectors amid the social and economic upheaval and the medical brain drain threatening the ability of the country's health care system to provide essential services.

Torn between health and economic concerns, Tunisia is on the way to losing its young doctors as the problem of Tunisian medical brain drain aggravated.

In the light of the high rates of doctors’ emigration, Tunisian Health Minister, Ali Mrabet, revealed on Monday, March 14, 2022, a new system urging young doctors to work for a specific period in Tunisia before emigrating to work abroad.

A move Tunisian Organization of Young Doctors said undermines the ethics and patriotism of professional doctors.


5 Years Before Leaving

Amid Coronavirus socio-economic implications, Ali Mrabet, the Tunisian health minister, announced on Monday, March 14, 2022, in an interview with the private radio station, Mosaique FM, a new proposal that would force doctors to work for a period of 5 years in Tunisia before leaving to work abroad.

The minister said this will be a kind of gratefulness for the country providing free studies for all students, especially doctors.

Mrabet said that “this system is based on an approach that requires doctors, who studied and were trained in Tunisia for free, to work at least 5 years in Tunisian countries before thinking of working abroad.”

“Young doctors should be grateful for the Tunisian people and look to compensate for their country's efforts,” he added.

During the same interview, the minister said doctors emigration and health professionals emigration represents a source of radiation for Tunisia abroad and evidence of the quality of the medical training, considering that he does not think the lack of opportunities to work in Tunisia is the reason behind young doctors' departure.

The Health Minister’s announcement caused controversy among those who agree the Tunisian people have the priority to benefit from Tunisian doctors’ services, and those who consider the Mrabet decision’s a fallacy and populism.

Doctors' emigration rates have notably increased in recent years, according to the Tunisian Doctors Syndicate; in 2021 more than 970 Tunisian doctors left Tunisia to work abroad, compared to 570 doctors in 2018.

The head of the Doctors Syndicate, Nizar al-Adari, said previously in a statement to the official news agency, that the number of Tunisian doctors who immigrated is greater than the number revealed by the Doctors Syndicate, Arabi 21 reported.


A Kind of Compensation

Since the mid-fifties, Tunisian government was working on ameliorating primarily education and health sectors spending a lot of money to provide best services and conditions until they became a reference in the Arab world and Africa as a whole.

Education and health systems were widely respected and trusted whether inside or outside Tunisia.

The work was mainly on the public sector and not the private, as many hospitals and schools were built in cities and rural areas.

Higher education also was improved through the construction of faculties of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and health professions.

However, the Tunisian public health sector witnessed a near setback during the period of former President Zine el-Abidine ben Ali, as the latter gave more attention to the private sector despite the construction of public hospitals and important health centers during his rule.

The result was marginalized and neglected public hospitals with poor conditions whether for patients or for the doctors themselves.

The solution was emigrating and seeking a better atmosphere for doctors, which in return, weakened more and more the Tunisian medical sector.

A large number of Tunisians blamed young doctors, in particular, for leaving the country after being well trained.

Those doctors were “condemned” of being unfaithful to Tunisian people who should be their first concern.



On the other hand, critics put the blame on Tunisian government for not giving priority to the most important sector in the country, pushing doctors to emigrate.

Despite Coronavirus implications, and despite poor working conditions such as long working hours, shift work, poor infrastructure, inadequate resources and shortage of personnel, Tunisian medical staff succeeded in saving lives.

Tunisian Organization of Young Doctors also disagreed with what the health minister announced, saying the statement was paralogism.

In her interview with Al-Estiklal, Omaima el-Hassani, the head of the organization, said “contrary to what is announced by the health minister, young doctors are required to register for a mandatory year of work after graduating, during which, they are poorly paid, not more than 400 euros; the minister did not talk about hundreds of doctors who have committed to voluntary working in rural areas for five years.”

“The world has also witnessed how young doctors were recruited to work in hospitals, despite the exceptional measures during Covid-19, some of them did not get their wages, but they did not stop working until this moment,” she argued.

The head of the organization continued to say that this kind of populist speech that Tunisian officials use today is only aimed at diluting the real issues, giving no accurate solutions for Tunisia's current crises; the minister did not mention the great services that young doctors are providing every day despite the harsh conditions.

“As for the high emigration rates, there are many reasons; the most important are the deteriorating working conditions, and the spread of violence in hospitals, in addition to the low wages,” el-Hassani said.

“All of these factors push young doctors to emigrate to countries really appreciating their competence,” she concluded.