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The proposed changes in the law will allow doctors to be educated in vocational schools, which until now could not offer studies of a general academic profile. According to the Minister of Education and Science, this is the only solution to the problem of staff shortages in the Polish healthcare system. However, the Supreme Medical Council (NRL) is of a different opinion and demands that the draft be withdrawn. The doctors claim that the new regulations will be detrimental to patients, as vocational schools will not guarantee the maintenance of high medical standards.
The new draft, concerning amendments to the Act on Higher Education and Science, was referred for further proceedings to the Health Committee and the Education, Science and Youth Committee after the first reading, which took place on 1 October 2021. However, in the opinion of the Supreme Medical Council (NRL), the manner in which the draft was proceeded with violated the basic principles of legislation, as the draft was not reviewed again by the medical association after significant changes were made. In its standpoint, published on 4 October, the Presidium of the NRL called for the withdrawal of the provision on the possibility of educating doctors and dentists in vocational schools, citing a lack of consultation with the medical community. The situation is not made easier by the ongoing medical workers’ protest during which doctors are demanding an improvement in working conditions. The exclusion of the medical community from the procedure of a bill that has such a significant impact on the process of training new staff only exacerbates the dispute between the health service and the government.
Cannot vocational schools replace universities?
In the opinion of the Presidium of the NRL, the training of doctors and dentists in vocational schools does not guarantee the maintenance of high standards in medical studies. Knowledge gained by students of vocational schools is not only about practice, but also about education in a humanistic context. Students learn ethical attitudes, which are an inseparable element of the medical profession, and as the NRL stresses, such education can only be obtained in university conditions.
The medical association also draws attention to the necessity of providing multidisciplinary academic staff, which will consist of theoreticians and clinicians. In addition, another important element of training is the creation of appropriate spaces, such as workshops, research facilities and laboratories, as well as the provision of the required equipment. The council believes that such training conditions can only be created in large urban centres, where universities are located.
Two views on the healthcare problem
As the Presidium of the NRL explains, the problem of staff shortages cannot be solved without improving doctors’ working conditions. This concerns both the financial aspect and the organisational aspect, as both of these factors influence the improvement of doctors’ qualifications and their professional development. In the NRL’s view, the situation of the health service can only improve if there is a qualitative change in the financing and organisation of the system.
However, a different view on the problems of the health service is held by the Minister of Education and Science, Przemysław Czarnek, who maintains that only by increasing the number of students being educated will it be possible to talk about filling staff shortages. In addition, the Minister of Health Adam Niedzielski believes that the standard of education in vocational colleges will not differ from the university level, because the schools will have to meet certain conditions. Although, according to the current regulations, vocational schools offer only practical profiles, the changes introduced will make it possible to transform them into studies with a general academic profile.