Chairman of the Icelandic Medical Association, Steinunn Þórðardóttir, stated in a recent interview with Fréttablaðið that Iceland faces one of the lowest ratios of general practitioners to the population in Europe, raising concerns over both adequate healthcare for patients and excessive workload for doctors.
Iceland only has 60 general practitioners for every 100,000 inhabitants. Averages for Western Europe are generally around 100 per 100,000, with most other Scandinavian nations having double or more of the Icelandic ratio. According to Steinunn, this lack is especially felt in pediatrics.
Because the Icelandic medical system lacks specialized facilities, many doctors must go abroad for medical school to finish their training. Some 847 Icelandic doctors are currently employed abroad, and Steinunn blames difficult working conditions as a major reason why these doctors do not choose to work here in Iceland. In order to retain the doctors that do train in Iceland, and entice doctors working abroad to work in Iceland, the medical system must make improvements to the working conditions.
In her interview, she states that because of a shortage of specialists in other fields, doctors must often work as psychiatrists and social workers as well. The unclear nature of the work further adds to the burden of an already heightened workload.
Central to the problem is the fact that Iceland simply produces too few doctors and nurses. An average of 60 are admitted to the University of Iceland’s medical school every year, but significant amounts of Icelandic medical students also choose to study abroad. According to Steinunn, Iceland cannot rely on other countries to fill this gap, and it is critical for the University of Iceland’s medical school to expand both its capacity and specialized facilities.
The shortage of trained professionals is by no means limited to general practitioners. Iceland is also experiencing a nursing shortage, with increased strain during COVID a major reason why nurses have left the field.
Similarly, Magnús Þór Jónsson, chairman of the Icelandic Teachers’ Association, has described the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers for this coming Fall. During the pandemic, teachers often had to adapt to a changing environment with increased responsibilities and workload. Citing these deteriorating conditions, Magnús states that many teachers have left the profession, either to temporarily work in other fields or else permanently in favour of better conditions.