Almost a Third of Romania's Doctors Have Left the Country

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Jan. 15 2014 10:51 AM

Romania's Medical Exodus

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A Romanian doctor in Northern France.

Photo by François Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

At the beginning of this year, nine European countries lifted controls on labor immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, prompting some fears, particularly in Britain, about a flood of low-wage workers coming from two of the EU’s poorest countries. (As it happens, only a handful of workers from the two countries have arrived in Britain since the controls were lifted.) While low-wage workers have gotten most of the attention, James Fontanella-Khan of the Financial Times writes on a different aspect of the story—the dramatic exodus of Romanian doctors:

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. Follow him on Twitter.

The brain drain of Romanian doctors going to richer EU countries is dramatic: over the past two years 30 per cent of resident doctors have left Romania, reducing the overall number of physicians from 20,000 in 2011 to 14,000 last year, according to official data. Since it joined the 28-member bloc five years ago about 14,000 doctors have quit Romania.
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The article notes that the net starting salary for a doctor in Bucharest is about 350 euros per month, compared with as much as 3,000 euros in Britain or Germany.

“Brain drain” is a controversial topic. Poorer countries often argue that the outmigration of high-skilled workers deprives them of human capital, particularly in medicine. On the other side, some economists—notably Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development—contend that there’s no demonstrable link between brain drain and medical outcomes and that emigration can actually spur the training of new specialists.

In Romania’s case, cash might not be the only factor driving doctors out of the country. A recent article in Britain’s Independent noted that “Romania’s doctors and nurses must contend with a system that is accused of rewarding bribery and nepotism as readily as merit”:

The medical profession is widely seen as corrupt. Patients often bribe their doctors. Some even insist on doing so, hoping to assure themselves of the best possible care. The venal doctor, often recorded in secret, has become a fixture of sting operations by tabloid papers and the TV news.

Whatever the impact this is having on Romania, the doctors are not always welcomed with open arms in their new homes. Romania's ambassador in London, Ion Jinga, recently told the Telegraph that he regularly receives complaints from the 2,000 Romanian doctors in the country about racist comments from their patients.