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OECD: Big increase in number of foreign born doctors and nurses

OECD: Big increase in number of foreign born doctors and nurses

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo: Philippine Nurses Association

Over the past ten years the number of nurses and doctors who have moved to one of the 38 OECD countries has risen by 60 percent. The number of foreign born doctors now makes up nearly one third of all doctors in Sweden and one in four doctors in Norway.

The refugee crisis has seen 800,000 people applying for asylum in an OECD country in 2014, 600,000 of them in Europe. It has deservedly gained massive attention. Yet the number still does not match the number of migrants arriving through legal channels, outside of the asylum system. For 2014 that number was 4.3 million people, up six percent compared to 2013. 

This is according to the OECD’s 2015 International Migration Outlook, which has a separate chapter on health care professionals. Most of the doctors seeking work in industrialised countries come from India, while the Philippines is the world’s largest exporter of nurses. 

The Nordic countries have between 3.3 and 3.9 doctors per one thousand people. The number of nurses varies between 11.1 to 15.4 per one thousand people. 

If you compare the proportion of foreign born doctors and nurses in the Nordic region, you will find major differences. Finland has the lowest number of foreign born doctors at 7.7 percent, and only 2.4 of nurses there are foreign born. In Sweden 29.8 percent of doctors are born abroad and 13.9 percent of the nurses. 


There are no figures for Iceland in this OECD study


The differences are even bigger in the rest of the OECD. Less than three percent of doctors in Poland and Turkey are born abroad, while 50 percent of doctors in Australia and New Zealand are. The number of foreign born nurses in Poland and Slovakia is negligible, but in Switzerland they make up 30 percent of the total.

The USA, Germany and the UK have the highest number of migrant health care professionals. In the wake of the 2008 finance crisis foreign health care professionals also moved from southern European countries to Germany and the UK.

Brain drain

The countries loosing their newly educated health care professionals face a problem at home. In 2010 the World Health Organisation introduced a global code of conduct for the recruitment of health care workers (Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, WHO, 2010). Meanwhile OECD countries have increased their education of health care professionals, which has slowed the immigration down to an extent. Certain countries, like Finland, Ireland and Germany, have also entered into a cooperation on the training and recruitment of health care personnel with countries of origin in order to prevent problems arising. 

Healthcare employment is generally less exposed to economic fluctuations compared to other parts of the economy. The total number of doctors and nurses has continued to increase in most OECD countries, although the growth has slowed somewhat because of the crisis. Budget cuts have also not affected health care professionals much in countries which have been affected by the economic crisis. However, some countries, like Greece, have decided not to allow the hiring of temporary labour, and that only one in five people who retire will be replaced.


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