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Arctic Doctor program to attract doctors to Northern towns — experts

The program is aimed to support those willing to move to the North

TASS, September 4. Russia’s Murmansk region has sent to the federal government a suggestion on organizing the Arctic Doctor federal program in the northern territories. The new program would be similar to the earlier Village Doctor. The Arctic Doctor could support those who will be willing to move to the North, though not only to villages, but to towns and cities there.

Authorities in the northern regions supported this initiative, hoping it will attract medical specialists there. However, some experts say it would be more important for doctors to receive not money, but housing.

Meeting demand for doctors

Governor of the Murmansk region told TASS the Arctic Doctor is necessary in the North’s shortage of medical specialists. The shortage in the Murmansk region is 636 specialists. The region suggests paying out to the Arctic specialists not one million rubles ($17,386), like in the Village Doctor program, but two million rubles ($34,772).

"The Arctic Doctor program, if implemented instead of the current Village Doctor, should solve this problem by attracting specialists from the regions. For that they should be paid compensations of about two million rubles," the governor said. "And a binding condition should be a working contract for a term of at least five years in the Arctic. Now the suggestion has been sent to the country’s government for further consideration."

As of now, the Village Doctor program does work in the Arctic, the authorities say, though it is applicable only for specialists coming to work at villages. Under this program, sufficient medical specialists have come to work at the Nenets Autonomous District.

"This year, two doctors have come to the Iskateley village. We had a similar program for the nurses, who also received one million rubles here. Since 2012, under those two programs we have welcomed 13 doctors and 33 nurses," the District’s department of the economy and finances said.

The Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District over the program’s term since 2012 has employed in villages 102 doctors, who received one million each (50% from the federal budget and the other 50% - from the regional budget). The Arkhangelsk region has attracted 228 specialists.

Specialists flee the Arctic

However, at some regions the Village Doctor program caused an outflow of specialists. The program is not suitable for attracting doctors to the Arctic cities, where the shortage is big. "As the Village Doctor program began, many fled the Arctic region for the central regions, and now they could be attracted back to the Arctic," head of a hospital in Yakutia Alla Andreyeva said.

According to her, in Yakutia doctors earn 80-100 thousand rubles ($1,390-1,738), nurses - 50-60 thousand ($869-1,043) or 30-40 thousand ($521-695), but this motivation does not really work. "Many would not go to the Arctic as here prices are much higher, food is expensive, the big distances, winters nine months long, the summer is short - only one month. Many suffer depression and stresses," she said. A high sum of compensations for doctors, ready to work in the Arctic, could be a good motivation, she added.

Local support

Some Arctic regions already offer own support to doctors. But, experts say, the paid money is too little to really attract specialists. "In the Murmansk region they may hope for 150,000 rubles ($2,607)- next to nothing. Nobody will come here on own choice," the Murmansk region’s legislator Oleg Minin said.

The healthcare authority of the Komi Republic says doctors in rare specialties may hope for a payment of 100,000 rubles ($1,738). Under employment agreements, students may receive personal scholarships of 2 to 2.7 thousand rubles ($34.7 to 46.9). The republic offers housing for rent to medical specialists.

The Arkhangelsk region pays out 50,000 rubles ($869.3) to graduates of medical universities in exchange for a three-year contract on work at polyclinic there.

An official of the Nenets Autonomous District Sergei Sviridov told TASS about the support the region offers to medical specialists wishing to work in the District. "To doctors who come to work in the District we compensate the housing rent (depending on number of family members, up to 15,000 rubles ($260) a month for term of five years). If a specialist works in villages - then also expenses for house maintenance. If a doctor comes to work in the District, he or she is paid under the law on work in the North a monthly wage and half of the wage to the family members," he said.

By those support measures the District attracts specialists from other regions, where doctors are paid more. "Nevertheless, the Arctic Doctor program could solve the shortage of specialists and could be of support for those who want to work in the Arctic. Including in cities, not only in villages," he added.

Offered housing will attract specialists

Experts say, own housing would be a good attraction for medical specialists for work in the Arctic - in addition to the payments. Head of the Karelian healthcare ministry’s department of state service and personnel Olga Kurakova says in the republic’s Arctic regions the shortage is in about 19 doctors, and the housing aspect is the biggest reason why doctors would not come to the North. The republic pays to doctors additional 7,000 rubles ($121) to compensate for housing expenses, but anyway rented housing is not own housing. "Doctors are paid a compensation for renting housing, but at any moment the doctor may be deprived of it," she added.

Head of Vorkuta’s administration Igor Guryev added the municipal authorities now solve the housing problems of doctors, and they can see positive results already. "Right about six months ago, five-six specialists came to work at Vorkuta’s polyclinic. We offered to them the idle flats we had - we give those flats to the healthcare ministry, and it renovates them at own expense," he told TASS.

The Karelian official added, the problem with shortage of doctors could be settled, if hospitals got a right to build and manage flats.