Slovenia's tight restrictions for immigrant medicine students, despite shortage of doctors

There is a minor shortage of doctors in Slovenia, but possible job applicants from abroad are finding that the barriers to entering the medical profession are steep. Potential candidates from the former Yugoslav republics would seem to be an obvious source for Slovenia to tap - just 15 years ago, Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia and the languages are closely related. But far from encouraging immigration, some say Slovenia has tightened restrictions even more. Michael Manske reports:

Dr. Silvana Popov
Slovenia has 2.28 doctors per thousand inhabitants - a figure below the average for the EU. According to one survey, Slovenes are less satisfied with the state of their health and have a higher prevalence of long-term illness than most Europeans; this despite paying above the EU average of their GDP on health.

Dr. Silvana Popov left Belgrade for Slovenia in 2001. Her practice, in the small south-eastern town of Makole, has since flourished - she has been voted the country's "best general practitioner" by her satisfied patients numerous times. Despite being eminently qualified, Dr. Popov had to jump a number of bureaucratic hurdles, including a Slovenian language exam and an exam in emergency medicine. She also had to renew her specialization exam in general medicine.

"It is a very difficult, complicated and troublesome procedure for us who come from abroad to acquire our licence to work in Slovenia."

In the days of Yugoslavia, Dr. Popov worked for four years in the Slovenian town of Velenje. In her opinion, things have since gotten more and more difficult - and continue to do so now.

"I think it is even more complicated now. I went through the procedure in 2001. It was complicated then, and as far as I know it is more complicated now. I didn't have to certify my degree, because I had graduated in the former Yugoslavia. But now, young doctors need to officially certify their degrees if they are not from an EU member state."

The process of "certification" can be long and expensive. Authorities examine the degree and determine whether it is valid in Slovenia or not - for a price that can exceed the average Slovenian monthly salary, not to mention salaries in the other former Yugoslav republics, which are considerably lower.

And so it is not unusual to find a trained medical technician from Bosnia working as a cleaning lady in Slovenia.

But the picture is not always so bleak. In the Serbian city of Nis, a 34-year-old woman named Danielja is going through the process of getting her papers ready to move to Slovenia. She says the process is actually not so bad if you have the right motivation.

"It's easy for me because I have motivation - positive motivation. I'm in love with a Slovenian boy, and I think it's much easier for me because I'm not getting this evaluation because I have to leave Serbia, but because I want to live in Slovenia, because I'm getting married or because I'm in love, because I love the man, you know?"

For those not in love, the uphill climb to getting a medical job in Slovenia still remains a rough one.