Iranian Health Professionals Are Migrating In Droves, Former Lawmaker Says

By Kayhan Life Staff

Avaz Heidarpour, an anesthetist and a former member of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament), has warned that 10,000 healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, midwives) are seeking employment in foreign countries annually.

“The number of people emigrating is alarming,” Mr. Heidarpour said in an interview with the Tehran-based Khabar Online news website on Oct. 14. “We ask about a colleague every week, only to discover that they have moved abroad.”

“The annual number of medical professionals emigrating, including physicians, nurses, and midwives, stands at 10,000,” Heidarpour noted. “Doctors routinely receive texts saying they can find employment in Germany easily, provided they are 55 or younger. A 55-year-old physician has 20 years of work experience, which another country will benefit from with little effort.”

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“I believe it is the fault of the Minister of Health and Medical Education [Bahram Eynollahi],” Heidarpour argued. “I would resign if I was in his place, given the number of doctors emigrating. The inability to prevent university faculty from leaving their posts is a good reason for resigning. However, these gentlemen want to keep their posts at all costs.”

“I think the existing laws could be why some doctors leave the country,” Heidarpour explained. “For instance, there is a law called the ‘Full-time Geographical Scientific Faculty,’ under which a university professor must be available to the university during opening hours and cannot open a private practice or work anywhere else besides where they are employed.”

“Sometimes doctors are even banned from giving opinions to other health professionals,” Heidarpour noted. “We cannot tell a university professor not to open a private practice for 30 or 40 years.”

“Another issue is doctors’ fees,” Heidarpour said. “Some physicians complain their fees are not respectable enough and are insulting. For instance, visiting a specialist doctor costs less than having a plumber service a home’s boiler. Doctors feel they are disrespected.”

“Conditions have improved in the country since the Revolution, but has society’s respect for the scientific community, doctors, and specialists increased at the same rate? We see it has not.” Heidarpour argued. “As a result, many academics and assistant professors have left the country.”

“President [Ebrahim Raisi] said a few days ago that 95 percent of the country’s essential medicines were produced domestically,” Heidarpour noted. “I do not believe the president understands how drug manufacturing works. We import powder medicine in 50-kilogram and 100-kilogram barrels, then process them here by mixing them with water and preservatives. We make pills and sell them. Is that claim then accurate?”

“While back, the health minister said that medical treatment for children under seven should be free,” Heidarpour added. “Dear Minister, given that your comments are a public relations gesture, what will you do when a child is refused treatment because they have no money? Is this how we build confidence? The main point is these comments have made people and the medical community lose confidence in the future of healthcare.”

The increasing number of healthcare professionals, engineers, technology experts, and skilled workers leaving Iran to find jobs elsewhere is alarming. The underlying cause of this worrying trend is persistent economic, political, and social problems. A large segment of the population is concerned about the quality of their lives and their children’s future.

Some believe the current emigration rate of medical professionals will harm the entire Iranian healthcare system.

In an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on Sept. 10, Shahla Khosravi, an advisor to the Minister of Health and Medical Education’s Bahram Eynollahi, said that the country needed 12,000 and 8,000 midwives in the medical and health sectors, respectively.

A week earlier, Reza Laripour, the spokesperson for the Medical Council of Iran (IRIMC), said that the number of medical professionals leaving the country had “doubled” compared with years preceding the coronavirus epidemic, adding Iran “exported” doctors to five continents.

In an article headlined “A New Phase in the Emigration of Doctors,” on Sept. 26, the Tehran-based Hammihan news website said that the faculties of medical schools would not be spared by the recent purge of university professors with long tenure. Despite a long and distinguished scientific record, many are forced into early retirement or find work challenging in the current climate.

Meanwhile, some directors of medical institutions prefer to leave and seek employment in other countries.

According to Hammihan, several senior health officials have left to work abroad, including directors of the Health Ministry’s Department of Health, the epidemiology department, the clinical trial center, and the Center for Drug Addiction Research. Also, some faculty members of medical schools have emigrated from Iran.

The report added that Hamid Suri, the former head of the national committee for the epidemiology of COVID-19 and a former faculty member of the epidemiology department of Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, had finally left Iran after months of staying home.

Back in August, Mohammad Raiszadeh, the director of the IRIMC, highlighted the significant number of healthcare professionals who had left the country this year, arguing that a decline in education played an essential role in the loss of respect for the medical community.

Undoubtedly, a drop in the public’s concern for the medical community and economic challenges are the two principal causes of the massive emigration of healthcare professionals.

In an interview with Khabar Online on Sept. 9, Hossein Aghakhani, a senior lecturer at Tehran University, said that nearly 50 faculty members of Tehran University’s various science departments had left the country.

“There is no official data, but nearly 50 faculty members of science departments at Tehran University have left,” Mr. Aghakhani said. “I have received reliable information that many more are preparing to exit. Younger faculty members cannot pursue their academic ambitions and make a living on meager salaries. As a result, they take advantage of these opportunities.”

“No graduates from prestigious foreign universities want to return to Iran, and if they do, it is because of other reasons,” Aghakhani argued.

“I deliberately use the word ‘exit’ instead of ‘dismissal,’ which entails a series of events that could eventually lead to an official dismissal (which is very rare, by the way),” Aghakhani explained. “Administrative and targeted removal, filling faculty posts based on quotas, employment restriction, unfair funding especially of independent persons, and failure to deal with fraudsters and even supporting authors of unscientific articles have caused the departure or dismissal of many talented people from universities.”

Meanwhile, the government says its “labor market diplomacy” caused the current migration of skilled workers!

In an article headlined “Those Seeking Jobs Abroad Read This” on Sept. 27, ISNA said that the enactment of the “labor market diplomacy” by the 13th government would enable the country to exploit opportunities in the international job market, adding the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was planning a “measured” transfer of “surplus workforce abroad.”

“The deputy labor minister for job creation and employment [Mahmoud Karimi-Biranvand] recently met with Armenia’s ambassador to Tehran to discuss expediting the transfer of 100,000 skilled workers to Armenia,” ISNA added.

Mr. Karimi-Biranvand described the “labor market diplomacy” as the government’s key policy, adding that “Qatar had issued 500 work visas for Iranians until June of this year.”

According to domestic media, Iran is exploring the European job market.

In an article headlined “Identifying European Job Market for the Iranian Labor Force,” on Aug. 30, the Qods news website said: “A meeting between [Iranian] deputy foreign minister and Omid Malek, the director of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ office for employment and workforce management focused on deploying Iranian labor force to countries seeking workers. It was decided that the foreign ministry should explore the needs of the European job markets.”

Mr. Malek said offering Iran’s surplus of non-skilled, semi-skilled, and skilled labor to the international market was part of the Ministry of Labor’s plan.