Preparing health professionals to meet the expanding health and social needs of ageing societies while enabling them to pursue rewarding career paths in their country of origin is a rising priority for governments in South-eastern Europe, whose health sectors have been weakened in recent years by external and internal migration. To discuss strategies for strengthening the technical capacity of the region’s health workforce through transformative education and solutions to the geographic imbalance, a high-level meeting organised by WHO Regional Office for Europe in collaboration with the South-eastern European Health Network (SEEHN) and hosted kindly by the Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria, took place on 9-10 November in Varna.

Attended by representatives of health and education ministries, national public health institutions, and universities from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, and the Republic of Moldova, and by WHO experts, the meeting outlined the need for improved alignment between health workforce education and training curricula on the one hand and evolving professional competencies required by new models of health care and changing public health needs on the other. Participants discussed solutions to existing barriers to cooperation between the health and education sectors and highlighted the need to establish a systematic process for health workforce planning with shared responsibility between ministries of health, employment and finance.

Other priorities emphasised in the course of the meeting included the need to shift towards evidence-based professional education and to retain faculty who can deliver it, to secure political support for enhanced teaching and training modalities, and to increase intersectoral cooperation by initiating policy dialogues on planned curriculum reforms with all stakeholders.

The vision of transformative education includes development of competencies and skills – both through basic health workforce education and through continuing professional development – that are linked to nationally and contextually relevant needs, as well as to global standards of excellence. Such education aims to maximise the contributions of all health workers.

Translating this vision into practice is essential to implementing Health 2020, the European policy framework for improving the health of populations and reducing health inequities, in which health professionals play a central role. It is also essential to implementing the SEE 2020 Strategy “Jobs and prosperity in an European Perspective”. To operationalize this vision, countries need strengthened sub-regional collaboration, continued technical support and cooperation, and greater alignment between educational institutions and the systems that are responsible for health service delivery.

The meeting in Bulgaria followed the WHO Regional expert consultations on transformative health professionals’ education and training in support of Health 2020 and a series of sub-regional technical meetings on health workforce mobility and retention in 2013 in the Republic of Moldova and in 2014 in Slovenia , which drew commitment by members of SEEHN to build a sustainable health workforce responsive to the current and future health needs of their populations.

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