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Working paper

The Health Workforce of the Russian Federation in the Context of the International Trends

Having one of the highest physician-population ratios in the world, Russia – paradoxically – also faces shortages of physicians. This paper explores the reasons for this paradox through examining the structural characteristics of the Russian health workforce and its development. In comparing Russia with mainstream European countries and in particular the ‘new” EU countries we argue that the shortage of physicians is determined mostly by the prevailing model of health workforce development with its enduring emphasis on quantitative rather than structural indicators. First, the traditional perception of physicians as inexpensive health resources determines the long-term growth of their jobs – irrespective of the new opportunities for substitution and other structural innovations. Second, there is a persistent distortion in the composition of physician supply, of which the most important is the very low share and narrow remit of primary health care providers in comparison to European standards. Third, the international trends in the division of labor between physicians, medical nurses and allied health personnel are not followed in Russia with the result of an inevitable overburden of physicians, the reproduction of a large supply of physicians, while also the paradoxical shortage. Fourth, the system of professional development of physicians does not match international standards. Although with a substantial delay, Russia has now started transition to a workforce model focused on structural characteristics of human resources and so, in the final part of the paper, these new initiatives of the Government are critically assessed.