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Germany

Doctors Across Borders

Eastern Europe has too many doctors, eastern Germany needs more of them. That's why German hospitals near Poland and the Czech Republic have started recruiting medical staff from the other side of the border.

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A German perspective for Eastern European doctors.

On May 1, the leaders of the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland will meet near the eastern German town of Zittau to celebrate the expansion of the European Union. Hospitals in the region have already started to look east across the border to deal with an acute shortage of doctors.

In Zittau's regional hospital, administrators have long learned to spell the names of their new colleagues correctly. Agata Magdziarek is one of the names that has started to appear frequently on the work schedule.

The 28-year-old assistant doctor from Lodz in Poland came to Germany because she couldn't find a job in her home town, where many doctors are unemployed. "I wanted to work in a hospital with high standards," she said. "It was impossible to find that in Lodz."

Finding no Germans to do the job

Like Magdziarek, many eastern European doctors are coming to Germany to work with patients. But before Polish and Czech doctors can come work in Germany, authorities check whether there are Germans available to do the job. As a result, it took six months before the hospital received permission to offer the job to Magdziarek.

Marktplatz und Rathaus in Zittau

Market square and city hall in Zittau

"Young German doctors don't want to come here," said Gerald Gerlach, a radiologist at the hospital, where every sixth doctor now comes from Poland or the Czech Republic. "Without these colleagues, we would not be able to staff shifts adequately," Gerlach said.

Eastern European doctors earn as much as their German counterparts -- more than three times as much as they would at home. They also have the opportunity to receive further training to become specialists.

According to Magdziarek, German patients have no reservations receiving treatment from her. "I was worried about that, but it didn't happen," she said.

Medical cooperation across the border

Besides the border-crossing doctors, hospitals in this region have cooperated in other ways for several years. In 1997, a woman hurt in a motorcycle accident was driven from Bogatynia Poland to Zittau for a computer scan. Hospitals also exchange diagnostic findings and arrange for consultations with specialists.

A Czech hospital in Liberec has joined the group. All three are now connected via a digital video line. But after the recent cuts in Germany's health care system, free computer scans to emergency patients from east of the border are something the radiologists in Zittau won't be able to offer any longer.

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