Mass Exodus of Doctors, Nurses Threatens Lebanese Health Care System Approximately 3,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses have left Lebanon since the country fell into economic crisis in 2019 By Andrea López-Tomàs/The Media Line [Beirut] In the grip of a crippling economic crisis, Lebanon now faces another dire consequence—a worrying exodus of health care workers. With […]
The Media Line: Mass Exodus of Doctors, Nurses Threatens Lebanese Health Care System
Mass Exodus of Doctors, Nurses Threatens Lebanese Health Care System
Approximately 3,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses have left Lebanon since the country fell into economic crisis in 2019
By Andrea López-Tomàs/The Media Line
[Beirut] In the grip of a crippling economic crisis, Lebanon now faces another dire consequence—a worrying exodus of health care workers. With one of the worst recessions any country has experienced since the 1850s, around 80% of Lebanon’s citizens are living in poverty, Human Rights Watch reports. The repercussions of this crisis are reverberating in the health care sector, with approximately 3,000 doctors and 5,000 nurses having left the country since 2019, according to the Lebanese Order of Physicians (LOP). The health care sector stands on the brink of collapse due to this continuous emigration, putting at risk the nation’s health infrastructure.
The LOP has warned multiple times that mass health care worker immigration has put Lebanon’s health sector on the verge of collapse. But the trend shows no signs of letting up, with many young doctors continuing to leave Lebanon in search of a better life.
Mouhamad Al Moussawy, 26, did so two years ago. “My supervisors told me, you’re at the beginning of your career, you must go to have a better education,” he told The Media Line. “Doctors in their fifties, already with experience and recognition in Lebanon, were already leaving.”
He explained that the exodus of more experienced doctors created a vicious cycle because those training in Lebanon to become specialists had access to fewer and fewer mentors. Eventually, during his second year of specialization at the American University of Beirut medical school, he decided that “staying meant putting my whole career at risk.” Al Moussawy now practices in Pennsylvania.
Al Moussawy’s story is not unique. Not long ago, Lebanon’s medical schools had a reputation for producing some of the Middle East’s best health care workers. Foreigners flocked to the country for medical treatment. These days, universities consistently see medical students leave the country immediately after earning their degrees. The trend has troubling implications for future generations of doctors in Lebanon, as well as Lebanese society more generally.
Mohamad Houri, assistant dean at Beirut Arab University’s Faculty of Medicine, is part of the third generation of doctors in his family. Despite his family history, he understands the forces pulling Lebanese doctors away from their country.
“Lebanon is expelling its people,” he told The Media Line. “Every day it is more difficult to stay here. I can no longer preach to my students about being loyal to their country.”
He described life in Lebanon today as being in “survival mode.” Of the 80 or so doctors who graduate from Beirut Arab University every year, the majority seek work outside of Lebanon. Those who do stay in Lebanon after graduating do so “because they could not find work abroad, but all of them are looking for it,” he said.
LOP President Youssef Bakhash attributes this emigration trend to a growing mistrust in the state.
“The sector is on the verge of collapse in light of the emigration of the veteran generation of doctors in search of a decent life and lost dignity,” Bakhash told The Media Line.
Houri, too, described a bleak reality for doctors still in Lebanon. “People here are depressed for many reasons: economic reasons, political instability, the feeling of injustice, the feeling of being underestimated as doctors,” he said. “Even the very well-established doctors feel this way.”
Doctors are leaving for countries like the US, France, Germany, the UK, Australia, or the Gulf countries, in hopes of returning to Lebanon when conditions improve. However, given the grim realities in Lebanon, doctors like Al Moussawy see little hope for a swift change.
“In the last months I was in Lebanon, I wasn’t able to see a sign of hope in this country,” he said.
In an ideal world, Al Moussawy would want to practice in Lebanon. “I want to treat people with whom I share common ground, with whom I share a culture,” he said. “We understand each other: the pain and the whole situation.”
Ultimately, the financial realities of practicing medicine in Lebanon made staying infeasible, and unless the situation in Lebanon changes drastically, Al Moussawy and other doctors like him will probably stay abroad.
“I could come back if things got better, but I am sure that is not going to happen, not even in five years,” Al Moussawy said.