Healthcare System in Portugal – Why Are Doctors Leaving the Country?

13. November 2023.

We’ve recently had the opportunity to visit several fairs in Portugal, namely in Lisbon and Port, and meet many doctors who work in the Portuguese healthcare system. We were shocked by the fact that many doctors expressed their dissatisfaction with working and living in this country.

mulyadi JeCNRxGLSp4 unsplash
The healthcare system in Portugal seems to be on the verge of collapse. Photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

We got the impression that dissatisfaction was the most prevalent among family medicine specialists, but this doesn’t mean that other doctors don’t feel the same. We asked ourselves: Is the situation in Portugal truly that concerning?

So, we decided to research whether other doctors are just as dissatisfied with the healthcare system in Portugal and why that might be the case. Our findings are truly alarming.

Are Doctors Really That Unhappy With the Portuguese Healthcare System?

Our research has more or less confirmed what the doctors themselves told us. There really is a high number of dissatisfied healthcare workers in Portugal, with many of them deciding to migrate to other countries.

Nurses, for example, are mainly migrating to Switzerland. According to the official data, more than 3,300 nurses left Portugal between 2020 and the end of 2022. On top of that, it is estimated that around 15,000 of them left the country since 2015.

However, medical nurses are far from being the only healthcare workers who are dissatisfied with
the state of the healthcare system in Portugal. In 2023, all doctors went on strikes and even
held a protest in front of the building of the Ministry of Health.

It seems, however, that the situation really is the worst when it comes to family medicine specialists. It is estimated that around 1.6 million people in Portugal don’t even have a family doctor, and the situation with the doctors of emergency gynecology and obstetrics is almost equally concerning.

What Caused This Great Dissatisfaction?

Portugal is a country of many natural and cultural beauties. But can that compensate for the downfalls of its healthcare system? Photo by Tom Byrom on Unsplash

Private conversations with doctors from Portugal gave us the impression that the main cause of dissatisfaction was the combination of a large number of working hours and a low salary. Doctors work a lot and earn little. Additionally, the primary sector is more or less equally disorganized as in Croatia.

The work hours and the overtime hours are challenging and intense. Doctors need to be on call a lot and collect a large number of overtime hours in order to get decent pay. Young doctors, on the other hand, are also dissatisfied with how the specialization is executed.

Our brief research has greatly confirmed the reasons for dissatisfaction that the doctors shared with us in conversations:

  • Around 47.8% of Portuguese healthcare workers show symptoms of high burnout.
  • 66% of primary healthcare doctors suffer from high levels of emotional exhaustion.
  • One of the reasons for the organized protests was the doctors’ refusal to work more than the legally stipulated 150 overtime hours. (!)
  • Some of the protestors’ main requests were better working conditions and better pay. The emphasis is on limiting overtime hours and reducing 18-hour on-duty shifts to 12 hours. The protesters also emphasize that their salaries haven’t been actualized for 10 years.

The government, however, doesn’t seem to be sympathetic to the protesters and their requests. At least for now, there are no indications of a more significant improvement of the system in sight. What else can doctors do, then, besides deciding to leave the country?

To Leave Portugal or To Stay?

Deciding to move is never easy, especially if it implies moving from our home country or a country where we’ve lived for a long time. However, sometimes, we may have no other option. In the words of the president of the Portuguese Nurses Association, the government’s decisions are equivalent to buying plane tickets for healthcare workers. The message is: “Leave, we don’t need you.” 

So, when the situation becomes hopeless, we should start considering a fresh start somewhere else.

Many healthcare workers are deterred from this by the fact that they don’t speak the official language of the country they’re considering. But you can really learn the language! Our many candidates who needed to learn the language of their chosen country are living proof of this.

Take medical nurse Maja as an example.

Maja attended Zrinka's Swedish school and, without any prior knowledge, completed the A1 and
the A2 levels in just a few months. Besides that, she says that she learned a ton about
Swedish society and culture during the course, which helped her get assimilated
after the move. Read her review here.

Additionally, if you’ve worked in Portugal, you probably already have the skills that will be necessary — and highly appreciated — in many countries. Also, you can always move to a new country for a “pilot year.” If it doesn’t go well, you can simply come back or choose another country that better suits your needs.

From Portugal to Scandinavia?

Hudiksvall, Švedska
There are many reasons why Scandinavian countries are a good choice for doctors who have already worked in the healthcare system in Portugal. Photo by Rebecca Johansson on Unsplash

Scandinavian countries can be the ideal choice for continuing your career after Portugal.

Many specialists in Portugal work in the same way as the specialists in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway. This is especially true for family medicine specialists.

In both Portugal and the Scandinavian countries, family medicine specialists do primary pediatrics,
primary gynecology, and primary psychiatry (diagnostics), as well as small surgical procedures,
such as wound suturing.

With that in mind, family medicine doctors could easily transfer their skills to the Scandinavian healthcare system and simply continue to advance them.

The second reason why Scandinavia is such a good choice is that many problems that bother Portuguese doctors have already been solved there. Here is a brief overview of these problems:

PortugalScandinavia

Competitive pay

(The average doctor’s salary in Portugal is 88,392 EUR annually)

☑️

(The average doctor’s salary in, for example, Denmark, is 183,342 EUR annually – more than 2x more!)

A balance between professional and private life

Almost nonexistent (overtime hours, long shifts)

☑️

Exceptionally important; Scandinavian countries practice frequent fika pauses (coffee breaks during the shifts) and organize work so that no team is overworked

Overtime hours

Frequent; rarely compensated for with days off

☑️

Possible, but almost never obligatory; always compensated for with days off

Interpersonal relationships at work

Mainly bad

☑️

Mainly good; our candidates emphasize that colleagues are very respectful toward one another and that everyone is invited to get-togethers after work

Incor can help you get a job not just in Scandinavian countries, but other countries as well. We also help you with the entire relocation process and organizing your life.

Opportunities for Doctors in As Many As 9 Countries

Specialists who are considering relocating can contact us for help with finding a job in the following nine countries:

  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Belgium
  • France

In some of these countries, we also have opportunities for non-specialists. If you are interested in those, please contact us directly at info@incor.hr or through this contact form.

We can help you with almost every segment of finding a job and relocating. Here are only some of our services:

  • Finding a desired position in a desired country
  • Finding a paid language course
  • CV preparation (in the required languages)
  • Getting work licences
  • Finding accommodation, schools, and kindergartens (if necessary)
  • Support in the first 6 months to help you assimilate to the new working and living environment.

Should You Migrate to a Different Country?

Moving is always challenging, but it’s sometimes necessary. Photo by Michal B on Unsplash

Of course, moving is a big step, and you should be the one to decide whether to proceed with it. However, if you are already dissatisfied with your working conditions, perhaps it’s time to pull the trigger. Doing so has never been easier than in the 21st century, the time of globalization and digitalization.

Also, migrating to a different country doesn’t have to be a final decision that will determine the rest of your life. As we’ve already mentioned, you can always come back to your country, or you can move elsewhere after spending a year or two in a different country.

Think of moving as an opportunity for something better; for specialization, learning, better pay, fewer work hours, more time with your family, and enjoying your hobbies. When you remove the fear out of the equation, does that sound like something you’d want? Probably yes.

We are at your disposal if you decide to take that step.

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