Author: Anna Shajee Edited by: Ruchi Maniar
On November 17th, 2017, we successfully conducted an SIUConversations event in Katowice, Poland with the purpose of continuing our mission of narrowing the void between academia, industry, and government. This event was held to enhance our understanding on the Polish healthcare system, and to focus on the future careers of medical students and resident physicians in Poland. We discussed the recent protests occurring around the country and the need to increase the GDP expenditure for the Polish healthcare industry. Our team invited both medical students and those currently working in the Polish healthcare sector to gain a better understanding of the policies, regulations and controversies surrounding this topic.
The current Polish healthcare system is a publicly funded arrangement called the National Health Fund. It is free to all citizens as long as they fall into the criteria as an insured employee. Additionally, the patients who are uninsured have to pay the full costs of their medical expenses. Although Poland offers a publicly funded healthcare system, majority of the citizens opt to use a private healthcare system, comparative to other countries in the EU.
Our first panelist was Mr. Mikołaj Jodłowski, a first year Polish medical student from the Medical University of Silesia. Mikołaj has been actively involved in the recent protests occurring in Poland. From his point of view, the protests have been taking place due to the fact that the healthcare system in Poland is not properly functioning. Although the request for an increase in GDP was first addressed in 1997, the need for a rise in GDP expenditure for healthcare in Poland resurfaced once again through the hunger strike which took place a month ago in Warsaw. Resident physicians used this as an opportunity to express their emotions and opinions regarding this issue. Mr Jodłowski voiced an expectation of a physician in Poland to work 235,000 hours a month for very low wages, with monetary incentives which cannot even sustain a family.
When asked about what fears he has as he works towards becoming a medical doctor in Poland, Mr Jodłowski responded with “long hours with traumatic working conditions”, as his biggest fear. He also felt that working as a physician in Poland involved “writing up more paperwork rather than actual contact with their patients.” In his opinion, the loss of connection in the doctor-patient relationship has also suffered, thereby resulting in insufficient diagnoses, and as a consequence, improper treatment. As a result, many physicians are prompted to work outside of Poland, mainly in Germany and Great Britain, in hopes of making a reasonable living for justifiable working hours. Despite the current dilemma that Mr Jodłowski observed in the Polish healthcare system, he still aspires to work in Poland and bring beneficial changes to the system.
Our second panelist who attended this open discussion was Mr Kamal Kabha, a foreign medical student from Tel Aviv, Israel. He introduced his views as a foreign medical student, where he compared the Polish healthcare system to his country of residence. Mr Kabha pointed out that in order for one to make a decision of working in a foreign country as a doctor, two main factors must be taken into consideration: the quality of education and a justifiable salary for the amount of hours put in. Mr Kabha felt that as a foreign medical student, working in Poland would not be an ideal option, in light of news of Polish medical professionals not being paid a reasonable wage.
Germany was frequently mentioned as a prospective country to work in the EU, which offers reasonable working conditions and a good salary, as vouched for by the speakers. Mr Kabha recommended that in order for the betterment of any healthcare system, there should be an increase in the interaction between doctors and patients. This relationship can only be established if there are more physicians and other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, nurses and other allied professionals who are able to collectively monitor the overall care pathway of a patient.
Moving on from the perspective of a foreign medical professional, our final speaker was Dr. Artur Gajda, a resident anesthesiologist from Provincial Specialist Hospital in Bytom, ranked no. 4 in Poland. Currently working amidst this crisis, Dr Gajda detailed his typical day as a resident physician in Poland. Mr Gajda recounted his hectic week of having worked with at least three, if not more patients in the ICU, which pales in comparison to other countries where a doctor is usually assigned to monitor the health of a single patient admitted to the ICU. Dr Gajda also described the obstacles he has had to face as a resident physician; he talked of a recent incident where excessive stress and pressure along with lengthy working hours caused one of his colleagues to die due to exhaustion. In light of this incident, many of his colleagues including himself, have agreed to work only for a reasonable amount of time. The low wages provided for such an extensive work schedule has subsequently forced several physicians to supplement their existing roles to sustain a family and have an acceptable source of income. Even though the Polish medical system is in such a situation, Dr Gajda expressed a will to work towards plans which will ultimately benefit both his colleagues and their patients, further ensuring that doctors are able to provide sufficient time and offer proper care to their citizens.
In conclusion, the protests that are currently taking place are stepping stones for medical professionals to express their opinions to the Polish government. Through this open discussion, our goal to acquire a better understanding and discuss the regulations and controversies surrounding this topic was accomplished. Many medical professionals along with the support of their citizens are working towards proposing an idea that will positively influence the Polish healthcare system. One such idea mentioned during our Q&A and Panel discussion was the idea of letting private corporations enter the healthcare system. Through this approach, many more complex services can be provided to patients and as a result doctors will attain more exposure to innovative methods practised in medicine.
So we, the SIU Katowice Team, thank our speakers for taking their time to voice their different perspectives on the current situation of the Polish healthcare system. This open discussion allowed us to better understand the healthcare system that we are part of and to justly serve our community, while providing proper care to those in need.