The metrics of the physician brain drain

N Engl J Med. 2005 Oct 27;353(17):1810-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa050004.


Background: There has been substantial immigration of physicians to developed countries, much of it coming from lower-income countries. Although the recipient nations and the immigrating physicians benefit from this migration, less developed countries lose important health capabilities as a result of the loss of physicians.

Methods: Data on the countries of origin, based on countries of medical education, of international medical graduates practicing in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia were obtained from sources in the respective countries and analyzed separately and in aggregate. With the use of World Health Organization data, I computed an emigration factor for the countries of origin of the immigrant physicians to provide a relative measure of the number of physicians lost by emigration.

Results: International medical graduates constitute between 23 and 28 percent of physicians in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, and lower-income countries supply between 40 and 75 percent of these international medical graduates. India, the Philippines, and Pakistan are the leading sources of international medical graduates. The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia draw a substantial number of physicians from South Africa, and the United States draws very heavily from the Philippines. Nine of the 20 countries with the highest emigration factors are in sub-Saharan Africa or the Caribbean.

Conclusions: Reliance on international medical graduates in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia is reducing the supply of physicians in many lower-income countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / ethnology
  • Asia, Western / ethnology
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Caribbean Region / ethnology
  • Developing Countries
  • Emigration and Immigration / statistics & numerical data*
  • Foreign Medical Graduates / statistics & numerical data
  • Foreign Medical Graduates / supply & distribution*
  • Physicians / supply & distribution*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States