Mar 11, 2012

Medical brain drain

In a globalized economy, the countries that pay the most and offer the greatest chance for advancement tend to get the top talent. South America’s best soccer players generally migrate to Europe, where the salaries are high and the tournaments are glitzier than those in Brazil or Argentina. Many top high-tech workers from India and China move to the United States to work for American companies. And the United States, with its high salaries and technological innovation, is also the world’s most powerful magnet for doctors, attracting more every year than Britain, Canada and Australia — the next most popular destinations for migrating doctors — combined.
That is from this interesting and thought provoking article in the NYT (the title is probably not the most fortunate) by Matt McAllester. This is usually a very contentious issue. The economics of the matter are clear. Nonetheless, there is still something that doesn't click with a personal sense of fairness. The issue however is a cause and an effect of fundamental and rooted problems (which is actually the way the article ends) happening in the "sending countries." Probalby what is more interesting is that despite the obstacles of working in very poor countries, still there are some doctors who stay. For example, one doctor who did stay says:
I don’t stay in Zambia because of lack of opportunities to go,” Makasa said. “I stay in Zambia because of what I think I can do in Zambia.
Probably one can understand a lot about medical brain drain by looking at those who stay. The non-monetary reward might be higher. Of course conditions are so different from one developing country to another. For example, Zambia and Honduras are so different in many respects (crime rates, economic inequality, etc).  

On another issue. The medical costs and prices in the US are so high compared to other countries that there are opportunities for doctors, clinics, and hospitals in developing countries to serve US patients (one can hope for trickle-down effects of this). Some of this is called "medical tourism." Of course this does not solve the problem of medical brain drain -- it could be more beneficial for countries that are located closer to developed countries,  neither does it solve the problems of health care systems in very poor countries. But it is happening.  

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