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Article

Too many and too few: the paradoxical case of physicians in the Russian Federation

Gerry C., Sheiman I.

There is a paradox characterising the Russian health workforce. By international standards, Russia has a very high number of physicians per capita but at the same time is confronted by chronic real shortages of qualified physicians. This paper explores the reasons for this paradox by examining the structural characteristics of health workforce development in the context of the Soviet legacy and the comparative performance of other European countries. The paper uses data on comparative health workforce dynamics to argue that Russia is a European laggard, before then evaluating recent and current policies within that context. The health workforce challenges facing all low- and middle-income countries are acute, and this paper confirms this IS the case for Russia—Europe's largest country. The paper argues that the physician shortage is driven by the model of health workforce development inherited from the Soviet period, with its emphasis on quantitative rather than structural indicators. We find that, in contrast to most European Union countries, Russia's stalled reform process leaves it facing a chronic shortage of appropriately trained physicians. We document the costs of failed and slow reforms during the last 2 decades, while cautiously welcoming some recent policy initiatives.