A German doctor explains things to a group of refugee doctors | Photo: picture-alliance / dpa / B. Roessler
A German doctor explains things to a group of refugee doctors | Photo: picture-alliance / dpa / B. Roessler

Some states in Germany have put out a call for migrant doctors who are waiting for their qualifications to be recognized to sign up to work as helpers in the fight against COVID-19. InfoMigrants spoke to the State Chamber of Physicians of Saxony.

"We have 150 [migrant doctors] signed up so far," says Knut Köhler, chief spokesperson for the State Chamber of Physicians of Saxony (Sächsische Landesärztekammer).In Saxony, the call was put out in the middle of March and they are gradually registering the doctors who showed an interest, with a view to employing them as medical helpers, not doctors, in the coming months. Köhler told InfoMigrants that at the moment, they are not working at all, which Köhler regrets.

"At the moment we can manage with the personnel we have, because things are in a relatively good state still," explained Köhler. In Saxony, there are relatively few patients in need of intensive care due to the coronavirus. In fact, the latest data from the regional government in Saxony show that just over 4,000 people have been confirmed as infected with the SARS-coV-2 virus and 87 people have died with it so far. "If more people do get infected, when they start to relax the current restrictions, then we know we can call upon these 150 people to start work," adds Köhler.

Around 14,000 foreign doctors in Germany are awaiting approval

In theory, a foreign doctor should be able to apply for the equivalency exams and papers and expect to start work about six months later. In practice, things often take much longer, says Köhler. An article in Business Insider estimated there could be as many as 14,000 foreign doctors in Germany awaiting approval and registration for their qualifications. That is 14,000 extra medical personnel who could potentially be used in Germany to fight the pandemic.Migrants wearing protective face masks as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prepare to board a ferry that will transfer them to the mainland, at the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, March 20, 2020 | Photo:  Reuters/Elias MarcouPeople coming from countries at war, like for instance Syrian doctors, might not have all the certificates they need, Köhler adds. There are also some countries where it is easier to obtain fake certificates and so all these things need to be stringently checked. Doctors also need to pass a German exam, "to make sure that they can fully understand the patients and that there is no room for error and a potential false diagnosis," explains Köhler.

Those rules and regulations are not being relaxed for this pandemic either, Köhler underlines. Everything remains the same in terms of checks before a doctor can be registered to work.

About 14% of doctors in Saxony are foreign

There are doctors from about 90 countries registered and working in Saxony. In fact, about 14% of doctors in Saxony come from abroad, which is a higher proportion than the foreign population overall in the state.

Köhler says that after they launched the Facebook appeal, they got lots of responses, from foreign doctors awaiting registration in other German states and even from abroad. In Saxony, they decided to limit their list to those who were already resident in Saxony and told some, who inquired from Cologne in North-Rhine Westphalia for example, that they should apply to the regional medical authorities there instead.

'I'd really like to help'

One Syrian doctor replied quickly to the call on the Saxon Chamber of Physicians Facebook site. "I’d love to, how?" wrote Safwan Adnan Ali. He spoke to the British newspaper The Guardian recently.

According to the Guardian, he arrived in Germany from Syria in July 2016, after studying general surgery in Latakia for four years. In order to avoid military service in Syria he moved to Iraq where he worked as a general practitioner for a year. Since he arrived in Germany, he told the Guardian, he has been learning German and preparing for the exams which will allow his qualifications to be recognized.

"I was waiting for the exam for medical language use, but then the coronavirus came and everything has ground to a halt," Ali told the Guardian. "When the appeal was announced ... I thought I'd really like to help. I need to do something useful, and I’d like to give something back to the country which has helped me so much, so I sent off my CV immediately."

Bavaria provides special dispensation for foreign doctors

He says he also applied to help in the state of Bavaria, which has a much higher incidence of COVID-19 cases than many other states in Germany. In Bavaria, over 35,000 people were confirmed infected with the SARS-coV-2 virus and 1,070 people died as a result of it. A screenshot of the statistics regarding the novelcoronavirus in Bavaria, Germany, the EU and the world on April 16, 2020 | Source: Bavarian Federal State Ministry of HealthIn Bavaria, according to Business Insider and the Guardian, foreign doctors have been offered immediate permission to work as assistants for a year. Since the start of the lockdown in Germany however, most of the exams and language tests relating to doctors and other qualification verification processes have been halted. Prior to this, writes Business Insider, at least 50 doctors a week in the state of Lower Saxony alone were taking the medical German language exams. The same portal says that there are over 1,000 foreign doctors waiting for approval of their qualifications in Berlin.

'I am prepared to go anywhere I'm needed'

Ali told the Guardian, "I am prepared to go anywhere I’m needed. Although as I have my wife and one-year-old daughter in Saxony, I’d prefer to work here close to them if I can."

Another Syrian doctor, Ahmad Dahhan, also spoke to the Guardian. He has been in Germany since December 2015 and testifies that "bureaucracy has made things very difficult and slow." He thought he would be able to start work very quickly when he arrived and describes the almost five year wait as "extremely frustrating."

Dahhan added: "They say they are in need of doctors, even when there isn't a health crisis, but it's not at all straightforward to get into the profession." A doctor looks out of a window at a hospital | Photo: Picture-allianceSaxony, like many other partly rural states in Germany, needs physicians in general. The hope is that once some of these doctors have gained experience working as assistants in the medical field, made contacts in hospitals and practices and improved their German still further, they will have a good chance of passing all the exams needed to become a registered physician in Saxony or Germany as a whole.

However, in practice, the work they might do will "not change the formal recognition process," since there are tight regulations in Germany governing who can work as a doctor, Köhler adds. Foreign doctors from outside the EU need to prove that they have the same equivalent qualifications and level of knowledge as any German-qualified doctor. "Patient security is our utmost concern," cautions Köhler. But he too is hopeful that after this crisis, those waiting for their approval and registration to come through can indeed "work as proper doctors" in the future.


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