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The Countries Experiencing Doctor Brain Drain

This article is published in collaboration with Statista

by Katharina Buchholz

India is the country with the most domestically trained doctors working abroad in the OECD – an organization of mostly developed countries. This is despite the fact that the density of doctors in India is very low in an international comparison. However, even if all expat doctors came home, it would not bolster India’s medical workforce by much.

An analysis of the countries where data was available shows that most recently, almost 75,000 Indian-trained doctors were working in the OECD. Almost two thirds of these professionals settled in the U.S., while 19,000 headed for the UK. Despite having a similar population size, the number of Chinese-trained doctors working in the OECD was much lower at around 8,000 that picked mostly the U.S. and Australia as their destinations.

While the effects of this doctor brain drain are significant for the country, the source for India’s low doctor density lies deeper. Comparing the number of Indian expat doctors to the number of physicians practicing in India, expat doctors equal just over 7 percent of the Indian domestic doctor workforce. This is comparable to the figure for the UK and only somewhat higher than the number for Germany. Yet, both of these countries have a much higher doctor density than India, leading to the conclusion that India trains too few doctors overall or itself doesn't attract enough doctors from other places.

Countries which are heavily affected by doctor brain drain include Romania where at a population of around 19 million, almost 22,000 doctors work abroad. If all of them returned home, this would bolster the domestic doctor workforce by 37 percent. In Egypt and in the Philippines, this number stands at almost 17 percent and almost 13 percent, respectively. Tiny Caribbean island nation Grenada has sent more than 10,000 doctors from all over the world to the U.S. thanks to a specialized study program. Yet, the nation that only listed 160 domestic doctors with the WHO in 2018 is suffering from medical brain drain and appealed to doctors and nurses from the country to return home during the coronavirus pandemic.

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