Why Does Brain Drain Hurt a Developing Nation

There is a general consensus that developing education is an incredibly important factor to reducing poverty. After an individual receives their education, that person may stay in their home country for a while, but if the economy is too depressed, they may move abroad to work. When this happens, countries are said to have experienced a “brain drain,” or “the migration of health personnel in search of the better standard of living and quality of life, higher salaries, access to advanced technology and more stable political conditions in different places worldwide,” according to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

While brain drain, or human capital flight, usually consists of health personnel, it can also include any person in any highly skilled field.

Brain drain has its benefits for individuals and drawbacks for the developing nation that the individual is leaving. For the worker, leaving for a more developed country has proven to have great benefits. That worker tends to have higher productivity, can usually research and publish more in their field, earn a higher salary, and even send money back to any family in their native home. In short, the individual has used his or her training to move out of a poverty situation and create a better life for their family.

However, for the nation that is left, brain drain results in many gaps in vital industries.

Puerto Rico is suffering from a cycle of poverty that brain drain has helped perpetuate. The migration of skilled workers did not cause the economic problems, yet the problems are more difficult to solve when highly skilled professionals, especially healthcare workers, leave the country.

Haiti has also seen a shortage of workers after having a brain drain: “Healthcare is a contributing factor to brain drain because the pay to healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses, who are lacking in accessibility, is lower than in other countries. Another contributor to brain drain is education, because the education system is poor—not only do few individuals acquire a post-secondary education, there are few opportunities to advance in specialized fields of interest and conduct meaningful research.

Even more developed countries are seeing the effects of healthcare workers leaving unstable economies. Greece is currently feeling the results of brain drain as more and more healthcare workers are leaving for Germany in the wake of economic unrest. If this continues to spiral, there will be a massive healthcare shortage.

What can be done to stop brain drain? Well, it may never completely stop until economies, schools and healthcare facilities are made better in developing countries. Unless healthcare professionals and other skilled workers are given a financial or educational reason to stay, brain drain will continue to occur.

Some good is being done to stop brain drain in Haiti through the work of the University of the People. They are working to help some students gain education with the hopes that those students will stay in the country and become leaders.

Developing nations need more initiatives like this to help keep skilled workers from leaving.

– Megan Ivy

Sources: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, New York Times, U.N., University of the People, University of Maryland
Photo: TheAtlantic