Measuring the migration of surgical specialists

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: The lack of access to essential surgical care in low-income countries is aggravated by emigration of locally-trained surgical specialists to more affluent regions. Yet, the global diaspora of surgeons, obstetricians, and anesthesiologists from low-income and middle-income countries has never been fully described and compared with those who have remained in their country of origin. It is also unclear whether the surgical workforce is more affected by international migration than other medical specialists. In this study, we aimed to quantify the proportion of surgical specialists originating from low-income and middle-income countries that currently work in high-income countries. Methods: We retrieved surgical workforce data from 48 high-income countries and 102 low-income and middle-income countries using the database of the World Health Organization Global Surgical Workforce. We then compared this domestic workforce with more granular data on the country of initial medical qualification of all surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians made available for 14 selected high-income countries to calculate the proportion of surgical specialists working abroad. Results: We identified 1,118,804 specialist surgeons, anesthesiologists, or obstetricians from 102 low-income and middle-income countries, of whom 33,021 (3.0%) worked in the 14 included high-income countries. The proportion of surgical specialists abroad was greatest for the African and South East Asian regions (12.8% and 12.1%). The proportion of specialists abroad was not greater for surgeons, anesthesiologists, or obstetricians than for physicians and other medical specialists (P = .465). Overall, the countries with the lowest remaining density of surgical specialists were also the countries from which the largest proportion of graduates were now working in high-income countries (P = .011). Conclusion: A substantial proportion of all surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians from low-income and middle-income countries currently work in high-income countries. In addition to decreasing migration from areas of surgical need, innovative strategies to retain and strengthen the surgical workforce could involve engaging this large international pool of surgical specialists and instructors.


External organisations
  • University of Utah
  • University of North Carolina
  • Skåne University Hospital
  • Helsingborg Hospital
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Deakin University
  • Barwon Health
  • Australian National University
  • Loma Linda University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-557
Number of pages8
JournalSurgery (United States)
Issue number3
Early online date2020 Jul 1
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Sep 1
Publication categoryResearch