VENEZUELA: Medical specialties suffer bloodletting

Postgraduate training in medicine is seeing sharp declines. For the past eight years, there has been a large decrease in the number of doctors applying for special medical training at the few universities that offer postgraduate medical studies.

Among the most affected medical specialties are internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine. The bloodletting of postgraduate studies is mostly being blamed on low wages, deteriorating infrastructure and a lack of medical supplies and medicines.

According to the National Council of Medical Postgraduate Courses, the country's leading university, Universidad Central de Venezuela, has experienced the biggest loss of medical specialties applications, with more than 40% of its places vacant. A university commission established that while in 2002 there were 2,093 doctor applicants, in 2010 that number dropped by more than 65% to 720.

This was followed closely by LUZ University in Zulia state, with close to 20% vacancies and numbers are similarly dire in each of the 10 other medical schools in Venezuela.

Latest statistics from the Venezuelan Medical Federation show that more than 5,800 doctors have left Venezuela in the past 12 years, mainly for the United States, Australia, Spain and Canada, and more than 300 specialists leave every year. For those who stay, many seem to opt for immediate jobs in the private medical sector where they take up more lucrative specialties such as plastic surgery and ophthalmology.

While universities fret about filling the vacancies, many in the county worry about what the situation is doing to public health. Council President Dr Freddy Pachano said if the decline continued then "in the next three or four years, Venezuelan hospitals will experience a major crisis" in critical services.