Globalization and Physician Movement


Healthcare remains local in an increasingly global economy. As such, it has become the largest employer in the United States. Reasons for this growth range from an aging population to its structure as both a private and publicly subsidized industry. Globalization may never move healthcare jobs across oceans, but it is disrupting US healthcare in less apparent but equally dramatic ways. As both physicians and diseases move more easily through borders, global health is more at risk and better able to able to address that risk at the same time.

While healthcare has been growing, manufacturing has fallen off in the United States, with globalization taking much of the blame after automation is taken into consideration. A stable workforce does not represent healthcare’s immunity to globalization, however. Though globalization has not impacted the size of the healthcare sector, the complex phenomenon is changing it dramatically and irrevocably.

A strong correlation can be shown between the wealth of a nation and the overall health of its population. While some societies which have embraced globalization have flourished, its relationship with the strength of an economy is complex and often confounding. Furthermore, there is no one metric to indicate a nation’s acceptance of globalization. For this reason, it is difficult to argue that globalization itself only improves healthcare worldwide.

Globalization has driven physicians from the poorest countries into the richest. In the United States, graduates of foreign medical programs are in demand as the shortage of physicians continues. Particularly affected are specialties where this shortage is most dire, such as psychiatry and family medicine. In wealthy nations, this influx of highly skilled labor is positive. The same cannot be said for the developing nations losing valuable expertise.

In epidemiology, globalization presents as categorically bad for the health of the world.  In addition to shifting talent from poorer to richer nations, globalization has altered the world of medicine by facilitating international travel. The power such travel gives to potential epidemics represents a dire threat to every country. Diseases that would have burned out quickly can now spread rapidly and unpredictably.

Ironically, international travel creates a potential remedy to the problems it causes for healthcare. Such travel allows physicians to meet needs in far-flung places where modern healthcare was once inaccessible. Historical failures to halt the spread of diseases has made epidemiologists vigilant, and access to rapid international travel and resources has empowered them to act on this vigilance. During recent outbreaks, this ease of movement for physicians has helped stop the growth of potential epidemics.

As the world draws closer together, this proximity has mixed results. Diseases travel more easily, but so do physicians. Whether going from a wealthy country to one in need or looking for a better life as a medical professional emigrating to a developed nation, the international movement of healthcare talent because of globalization is a powerful force that isn’t going anywhere.

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