Introduction – More than 500,000 people are employed in the Swiss health sector, with over 30,000 working as doctors in 2011. The dependency on foreign doctors is fairly high and still increasing, especially in general practice, psychiatry, paediatrics and highly specialized disciplines, such as heart surgery, neurosurgery, radiology, radio-oncology and nuclear medicine. Presently approximately 25% of all doctors have a foreign degree. Most of them have been immigrating from Germany, followed by France, Italy and Austria. Switzerland is considered an attractive country to work by many due to good pay and regulated working conditions.
How to become a doctor – Medical studies at the faculties in Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne take six years and are completed by a diploma (“eidgenössisches Arztdiplom”). Postgraduate specialty training is necessary in order to be allowed to practice medicine independently. Specialty training is organized by the SIWF (Schweizerisches Institut für ärztliche Weiter- und Fortbildung) and completed at a recognized Swiss training establishment. It takes at least 3 (GP) or 5-6 years (other specialties) and is concluded with a test (“Facharztprüfung”). There are 44 different specialties to choose from. Furthermore, doctors working in Switzerland are obliged to take continuing education (“permanente Fortbildung”). The Swiss cantons (the member states of the federal state of Switzerland) are responsible for granting admission to the medical profession (“Berufszulassung”).
The Association of Swiss Assistant and Senior Physicians (VSAO) represents the professional and economic interests of more than 19,000 employed medical doctors in Switzerland. Membership with VSAO allows assistance on various issues such as labour law, insurance, career advice or finding child care.
Hurdles to take for foreigners – As in most other countries, the three main barriers to access the labour market are recognition of qualifications, language and immigration law. The rules applying in Switzerland are fairly complex.
The Swiss authority in charge of deciding on recognition of foreign medical qualifications is the “Medizinalberufekommission (MEBEKO)”. EEA-qualified doctors benefit from automatic recognition under Directive 2005/36/EC (which is applied in Switzerland based on bilateral agreements with EU/EFTA countries). Non-EEA qualified doctors (e.g. from Australia, Canada, Russia, US) have to obtain Swiss qualifications; to this end MEBEKO decides on a case-by-case basis on the equivalence of the foreign diploma and remaining individual requirements (further studies and exams) to obtain the Swiss diploma. The SIWF decides on the recognition of training periods completed abroad. For further details and exceptional rules you may consult the latest guide of the Swiss Medical Association.
Foreign doctors applying for recognition of their qualifications and aiming to practice medicine in Switzerland have to prove to MEBEKO appropriate language skills in one of the country’s official languages: German, French or Italian.
An additional hurdle is currently the moratorium on the admission of doctors wishing to open a medical practice in certain Swiss cantons, if they have not worked previously for at least three years in a Swiss hospital (“Zulassungsstopp”). Hence, the restriction impacts in particular doctors immigrating for the first time. The moratorium has been in force since 1 July 2013 and will continue until 30 June 2016. More detailed information can be obtained from the website of the Swiss Medical Association.
All foreigners need to have a valid residence permit (“Aufenthaltsbewilligung”) to work in Switzerland. For residence permits contact the immigration authorities. Immigration is – still – simplified for EU citizens, who benefit from the principle of free movement of persons. However, temporary limitations to this principle are currently in place in form of quotas and for Bulgarians and Romanians also priority of Swiss candidates. Furthermore, the principle does not apply to Croatia. On 9 February 2014 the Swiss voted in favour of a constitutional amendment “against mass immigration”, which will lead to a complete revision of the immigration rules for foreigners including EU nationals (see bleedle news alert).
Where to get further info / support
- Swiss Medical Association (FMH)
- FMH Guide for doctors in Switzerland (in German)
- Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (SFOPH) – Medizinalberufekommission (MEBEKO)
- SIWF (Schweizerisches Institut für ärztliche Weiter- und Fortbildung)
- Swiss Medical Journal
- VSAO – Verband Schweizerischer Assistenz- und Oberärztinnen und –ärzte
- Federal Office for Migration
- Bleedle article on the Swiss referendum “against mass immigration” of 9 February 2014
- Contact Us
Last update: 8 March 2014