“Brain drain” is defined as the emigration of highly skilled workers from developing economies to more developed ones. Globalisation and membership in the European Union have had positive and negative impacts on Eastern European countries, which in the context of liberalisation have become known as human-capital-exporting countries. Unfortunately, the surge in medical personnel, engineers and entrepreneurs working abroad has caused serious damage to the countries of origin that now struggle with dormant economies.
Romania ranks first in emigration among European countries. The 1989 fall of the Communist regime was the first opportunity for Romanians to look for new prospects abroad. However, only following Romania’s EU joining, the brain drain effect started to impede development in specific sectors. The healthcare sector is one in which innovation seems impossible. More than half of its workers have migrated to Western countries, meaning that those left behind are struggling to meet day-to-day health care demands.
Reports have shown that four out of five Romanian doctors consider working abroad and over 20,000 have left to practice in countries such as the UK or France since 2007. This problem disrupts the country’s development. There is often concern regarding the financial losses, since Romanian taxpayers pay for the education of doctors and nurses. The training of one doctor in Romania costs approximately 100,000 €. These costs deepen the economic disparities between Western and Eastern Europe, but education costs are overlooked during EU budgeting meetings. That oversight may not be accidental when destination countries gain knowledge and economic benefits from such workers.
While long-term economic consequences involve a more elaborate analysis, short-term repercussions are more visible. The brain drain has depleted the healthcare system, with a 20% personnel shortage in Northern Romania The recent outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed the workforce to risk and the weaknesses of the sector. The lack of qualified personnel and scarcity of hospital funding (Romania allocates only 5% of GDP to healthcare) led to unprecedented measures such as closing hospitals in major cities.
Brain drain is often irreversible, so Romania should soon focus on a “brain gain” approach. Various studies have shown that such a strategy might foster and encourage growth . “Brain gain” generates economic gains and knowledge capital. Policies promoting return-migration would bring experience and skills to the healthcare sector.
Although remittances from the diaspora of 1.9 billion dollars in 2014 helped the economy, monetary gains cannot entirely offset the negative effects of brain drain. As an increasing number of highly skilled Romanians work abroad because of exacerbated income inequalities and corruption in their home country, radical institutional change to encourage “brain gain” is needed.
Bottom Line: Brain drain has little to no positive effects for Romania, especially in the healthcare sector losing trained specialists. Reversing the drain is needed to foster progress and development.
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