Should the US pay Ethiopia for each doctor that chooses to move to the States?

I heard a great BBC podcast on the brain drain in Ethiopia and it got me thinking about creative solutions to old problems.  I’m in Ethiopia right now and fascinated by the country’s approach to flood the market with doctors to retain the numbers they need.

The brain drain of physicians trained in Africa to the US, Canada and other developed nations is an on-going challenge. In Ethiopia, a country of over 80 million people, there are only 3000 physicians. To address this challenge, the country plans to scale up in large scale the number of medical schools and therefore physicians trained in the country. In essence, they plan to flood and retain. At public medical schools (which are the majority), medical education is free, then graduates are expected to complete compulsory service of 2-4 years in country. After that, physicians are free to go wherever they want. Many go to western countries to complete residency training, others go to NGOs in-country and others go in to private practice – all options that pay more than public service where then need is most acute.

So if Ethiopia is investing in to provide medical education to thousands of students each year, only to supply richer countries where access is not nearly in as much a crisis, shouldn’t we pay for their service?

Medical education for a US student costs around 250K – now granted a good portion is paid by students but States often subsidize higher education, so shouldn’t we pay back some of Ethiopia’s investment, especially given the huge deficit it leaves behind?

The issue of retaining doctors should clearly be addressed by the Ethiopian Ministries of Health, Education and the medical schools but perhaps it’s time the West takes some responsibility for the brain drain?

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