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Medical Brain Drain Slams Iraq

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyOctober 20, 2008 10:35 PM


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The doctor shortage is looming in our future, and the exodus of top scientific talent out of the U.S. may be just a few years away. But imagine the scenario if you added a domestic war, ethnic violence, and an unstable (relatively speaking) government to the equation. Cue the current situation in Iraq, in which legions of educated workers—including doctors and other health professionals—are high-tailing it to safer pastures, as Newsweekreports. And who can blame them: Since the U.S. invasion began, doctors have been prime targets for violence, including assassination, ransom kidnapping, and torture. Unsurprisingly, around 30,000 doctors, plus some dentists and pharmacists, have fled the country as a result, and despite the fact that things have calmed down since the near-chaos of 2006, only about 800 have returned. To put that number into perspective, the total population of Iraq is around 28 million, compared to over 300 million in the U.S. The expected American doctor shortage, which could be enough to throw our health care system into crisis, is projected to be 50,000 to 100,000 doctors—not that much more than what Iraq has already lost. Then there's the other urgent dilemma: With all the experienced doctors fleeing the country, who's left to train the med students? One physician is quoted as saying that younger residents and interns are literally "studying the textbooks and searching the Net." Just imagine your orthopedic surgeon Googling "knee replacement" as a nurse puts you under. Efforts to lure the expat doctors back to their home include tripled salaries, back pay for time spent outside the country, free land, and even newly-renovated "doctor living communities" that would be guarded for safety. Still, as our own financial meltdown has shown, all the money and property in the world can't buy security.

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