NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 28, 2005

One of every four doctors in North America, Britain and Australia is an immigrant who attended a foreign medical school. This migration of medical professionals to wealthy countries contributes to a "brain drain" that deprives poor countries of good medical care, according to a new report published in New England Journal of Medicine.

As many as three-quarters of physicians who come to rich countries hail from less-developed ones grappling with AIDS, infectious diseases and other health scourges, the researchers found. In the United States, for example, most foreign doctors are from India, the Philippines and Pakistan.

Researcher Fitzhugh Mullan culled data on doctors practicing or training in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia. He found:

  • Foreign-born and -trained physicians account for 23-28 percent of doctors in those four countries.
  • The United States has the largest share of foreign doctors, with nearly 209,000.
  • Developing countries supply between 40-75 percent of the foreign doctors in the four nations.
  • Only 3 percent of U.S. doctors went to foreign medical schools and returned to the states to practice.

Africa has only 600,000 doctors, nurses and midwives to serve 600 million people, yet wealthy nations continue "poaching" them, say Lincoln Chen of Harvard University and Jo Ivey Boufford of New York University.

The foreign doctors typically come to the United States and other rich countries to complete their residencies, and many remain here to practice medicine. Because of the aging of the baby boom generation, experts say the United States faces a shortage of 200,000 doctors and 800,000 nurses by 2020.

Source: Alicia Chang, "Study: Rich Nations Aiding 'Brain Drain'" RedNova, October 27, 2005; based upon: Fitzhugh Mullan, "The Metrics of the Physician Brain Drain," Vol. 353:1810-1818, No. 17, New England Journal of Medicine, October 27, 2005.

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