Local interests will not lead to an improvement in the supply of physicians but bring about a deterioration of the teaching and research situation
(OTS, 16 March 2010) The following statement has been issued by the Rectors of the Medical Universities of Graz, Innsbruck and Vienna about the plan to set up a fourth public medical university (in Linz):
No increased need for physicians but waiting time for training slots and contracts with health insurance providers
Various political forces in Upper Austria are increasingly exerting pressure on the Federal Government to set up a medical university in Linz that is financed from public funds. The reason expressed by them to the outside is an alleged foreseeable lack of physicians in Austria. This assumption is not backed by any studies published by authors who are unprejudiced on this matter. The number of graduates of medicine has remained unchanged at a high level since 2001, on average it is higher by one third compared to the nineties – and then (strictly speaking even until July 2005, when the European Court of Justice suspended the Austrian admission criteria due to discrimination of non-Austrian EU citizens) the Medical Chamber was still speaking of the threat of a "glut of doctors". Graduate figures are not expected to decrease in the future either as the success rate of newly accepted students has clearly risen thanks to the admission procedures applied for the past three years.
Irrespective of this fact, it is incorrect to conclude that more students of medicine will lead to a greater number of physicians who are of relevance for the medical care of the population, because waiting times for training places for general practitioners or specialists differ depending on the province (they will only receive their professional qualification following completion of training!). Upper Austria could consider itself lucky if no waiting times existed there. But even if all physicians with a professional qualification are taken into account, there is no sign of a rise in the number of contracts with health insurance providers, which are essential for private practices, or in the number of posts for specialists, which are necessary for employment at a hospital; instead, due to the coffers of the federal and regional governments being empty, we must fear the contrary. Likewise it is not possible to rectify the partial lack of physicians in rural regions by raising enrolment figures in medicine, this problem can only be solved by introducing structural measures.
If in the next years, however, there is a need for a greater number of physicians who are capable of providing medical care to the population and if the provinces and health insurance providers at the same time are also prepared to make a big increase in the number of training slots, places for specialists and contracts with health insurance providers, the three medical universities in Innsbruck, Graz and Vienna will also be prepared: as specified by the University Act and the performance agreements with the Federal Government that are based on it, they are working to establish an additional 500 places for new students based on requirements; this is to be completed by mid-year.
Not more students but more graduates and teaching hospitals – offer of cooperation
Financing of public universities is already critical today, and the situation will only deteriorate because of the cost-cutting measures planned by the Federal Government, so it is counterproductive to thin out the university budget with another university on the basis of the facts described above. Training in the basic subjects would increase in quantity but deteriorate in quality. The bottleneck in clinical training would become even more acute. There is no need for more study places but for an improvement of clinical training by setting up more teaching hospitals.
Here it is possible to make academic use of the excellent Upper Austrian hospital landscape. The Medical Universities in Graz and Innsbruck are now already running the final study year of their medical curriculum as a practical year, the Medical University of Vienna is currently reorganising its curriculum in this sense. Additional teaching hospitals are needed to teach the required clinical skills in this practical year, and the Upper Austrian hospitals are already excellently suited for this purpose.
Herbert Lochs, MedUni Innsbruck
Wolfgang Schütz, MedUni Vienna
Josef Smolle, MedUni Graz