Chairman of Medical Association Warns of Doctor Shortage

Nurses Hospital Landsspítalinn við Hringbraut

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.


Teachers’ Work Not Confined to the Classroom, Union Says

Primary school teachers are seeking increased flexibility as part of their new wage contract, RÚV reports. Wage negotiations are underway, but teachers have been without a contract for over a year and are growing impatient.

Bargaining committees for primary school teachers and the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities are now meeting on a regular basis with the goal of signing a new contract by October 1. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement ended in July of last year, at which point they agreed to an extension of the negotiation period. Þorgerður Laufey Diðriksdóttir, chair of the Association of Primary School Teachers, says that teachers are demanding a pay raise in accordance with the Living Wage Agreement. She also says that it’s time for municipalities to recognize that the work of a teacher is not confined to the classroom.

“It’s become apparent during COVID that we’re doing a job that can be both onsite and remote. It’s not just preparation that might take place offsite, but as we’ve clearly seen, teaching may also be done remotely.”

Þorgerður says that for years, the teachers’ contract has been based on the idea that they should be doing most of their work while at school. “This hasn’t led to better education—on the contrary, it’s caused grief and discomfort for a lot of people, having experienced this inflexibility.”

As such, Þorgerður says that an increased flexibility, that is to say, a broader understanding of what teachers do—and where they do it—is a requirement as they continue with negotiations.

Applications for Teachers’ Education Increase by 30%

preschool kindergarten kids children child

The number of applications for graduate studies in preschool and primary school education at the University of Iceland has increased by 30% compared to the average over the last five years. A press release from the Ministry of Education says the total number of applications this year is 264, while the recent annual average has been 186.

“This is really delightful news,” stated Minister of Culture and Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir. “I myself feel a lot of momentum in education issues and the discussion about the future of Icelandic education.”

Earlier this year, the Minister introduced measures aimed at increasing the number of teachers. The measures include, among other things, a paid internship in the final year toward earning a teaching license for preschool and primary school teaching. Teaching students can also apply for a grant of up to ISK 800,000 ($6,450/€5,800) in their final year of studies. Applications for other Ministry of Education grants, which fund specialisation in job-related areas for teachers, have doubled in recent years.

Staffing Schools Easier Following WOW Bankruptcy, Says Administrator

Reykjavík school

“We really expect it to be easier to staff schools during the next academic year based on this changed state of affairs in tourism,” Helgi Grímsson, department head of Education and Youth at the City of Reykjavík, told Vísir. The bankruptcy of WOW air has left over 1,200 individuals without work, both former employees of the airline and employees of related businesses. Some of them are educated teachers who were lured away from schools by the booming tourism industry.

Iceland Review has already reported on laid-off WOW air flight attendants returning to jobs in nursing. Helgi says many professional  primary and preschool educators have also been working in tourism, a trend that he expects will reverse in the near future. “One now assumes that some of them are thinking of coming back to work in preschools and in primary schools and we are examining the issue and keeping an eye on it.”

“It’s just always like that, when one door closes, another opens. When construction cranes and tourists increased, there was a lot of staff leaving us for other jobs. Or that people who were entering the labour market looked rather at tourism than schools.”

Helgi says administrators are looking at ways to make it easier for former teachers to return to the classroom, by for example building up continuing education courses that will help educators get up to speed.