At this and other fairs, which are regular events in several major cities across Central and Eastern Europe, Western health-care recruiters lure Romanian doctors abroad with salaries that they could never hope to earn at home: typically, they offer between 2,000 and 3 000 euros per month (a starting salary in Germany's biggest chain of private hospitals, Asklepios Kliniken), as opposed to the 300 euros per month that can expect to earn in Romania. In Scandinavia and the UK, it is not unusual for medical specialists to take home between 10,000 and 12 000 euros per month.

Recruitment agencies from more than ten European countries, and also from Australia and New Zealand, have announced they will be participating at the current fair, which is organized by MediPharm Careers, a Polish recruitment agency specializing in medical staff, along with Hearty Europe LLC (an American medical tourism company), and Romanian communications specialist Houston NPA.

The two-day event on the 16 and 17 October, which is being held within the walls of Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, is touted as an ideal venue for countries in need of medical personnel, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Malta and Spain, who aim to recruit experienced Romanian doctors and interns. It has also been designed to attract interest from much sought after specialists in anaesthesiology, emergency medicine, psychiatry, general surgery and pediatrics. "The novelty of this show is the direct involvement of foreign employers, and not just recruiting agencies," explains Houston NPA representative Simona Oprea. Next week, the fair will move to Cluj-Napoca, where it will open its doors at the Iuliu Haţieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy.

Enthusiasm sapped by a lack of resources

Mihai Lesaru, age 30, is a radiologist at Bucharest's Fundeni Hospital. After several years working as a specialist in France and Switzerland, he returned home to hoping to apply what he had learned abroad. "Going abroad teaches you to value yourself," he explains, and this is one of the reasons why he advises young people to seek experience in foreign countries: "in Switzerland, registrars earn from 3,000 to 6,000 euros, and in France, they are paid between 2,000 and 3,000 euros. But it is not just a matter of money, it's also a question of equipment and working conditions."

This latter issue was the source of much disappointment on his return to Romania: "I was very enthusiastic when I first came home, and really hoping to build something. But I didn't expect to run into the problems that are undermining the profession here. It was quite a shock to find that major hospitals, like Fundeni in Bucharest, don't have sufficient medical and anaesthesia supplies. I hate to think about what's happening in small hospitals in the country."

Romanian hospitals in critical condition

The mass exodus of doctors has also been prompted by the abysmal conditions that prevail in Romania's health-care institutions. Many hospitals are struggling to cope with chronic shortages of surgical equipment, medicines and other supplies. Often there is nothing held in stock except for compresses, surgical alcohol and iodine. Doctors are forced to pay to buy their own supplies, while patients are often obliged to pay for drugs administered at the hospital. Expecting mothers have to contend with maternity homes where cracked and mouldy walls, cockroaches and blocked toilets are the exception rather than the rule.

In Cluj-Napoca, in the west of the country, administrators in the regional hospital have opted to cancel scheduled operations, because they no have the funds to cover the cost of basic supplies. The hospital has been struggling to cope with debts of 14.5 million lei (approximately 3 million euros).