Experience and knowledge of health care is transferable to any country and because of excess demand for people with medical skills in other countries, it is likely that many Estonian health care professionals will emigrate in the future. The aim of this study is to find out the trends in emigration of health care professionals, whether emigration will result in shortage or surplus of health care workers and how to shape the policy of planning health care workforce taking into account emigration.

The study found that the health care workers intentions to work abroad, including constrains on these intentions, do not different from rest of the Estonians’ intentions of working abroad. Main reason for going to work abroad is higher income and better working conditions, main personal constraint being home and family life in Estonia. The results show that about half of Estonian health care professionals would like to work abroad, either permanently or temporarily, and around 5% have definite plan to go, most of them being young professionals.

However, emigration might not be completely negative trend because 90% of the people wishing to go abroad would like to come back in the future, equipped with new experience and knowledge. Temporary emigration will only pay off if people returning will have gained knowledge and will implement these effectively. In general, emigration of health care professionals is a waste of country’s resources.

Policy recommendations to influence emigration and to secure sufficient availability of health care services:

  • Train more professionals, when planning health care workforce
  • reduce push factors of migration
  • implement disincentives for going to work abroad
  • better use of existing resources
  • co-ordination of planning of health care personnel between countries

In order to replace the health care sector emigrants, the supply of nurses and doctors needs to increase around 10%. When training new people and increasing supply, in order to replace emigrated workers, it needs to be taken into account that the emigration is already taking place and probably will increase in years to come, and that the changes in policy will take time to have an effect.

To effectively reduce the shortage of workers, the push factors of emigration need to be reduced. Training new people is dealing with the consequences of the emigration and will not affect the levels of emigration; therefore discouraging emigration would be more effective policy to pursue.