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Managing health worker migration: a qualitative study of the Philippine response to nurse brain drain

Roland M Dimaya1*, Mary K McEwen2, Leslie A Curry3 and Elizabeth H Bradley3

Author Affiliations

1 Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA

2 State of Alaska Division of Public Health, Section of Health Planning and Systems Development, Juneau, AK, USA

3 Yale School of Public Health, Division of Health Policy and Administration, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

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Human Resources for Health 2012, 10:47  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-10-47

Published: 19 December 2012



The emigration of skilled nurses from the Philippines is an ongoing phenomenon that has impacted the quality and quantity of the nursing workforce, while strengthening the domestic economy through remittances. This study examines how the development of brain drain-responsive policies is driven by the effects of nurse migration and how such efforts aim to achieve mind-shifts among nurses, governing and regulatory bodies, and public and private institutions in the Philippines and worldwide.


Interviews and focus group discussions were conducted to elicit exploratory perspectives on the policy response to nurse brain drain. Interviews with key informants from the nursing, labour and immigration sectors explored key themes behind the development of policies and programmes that respond to nurse migration. Focus group discussions were held with practising nurses to understand policy recipients’ perspectives on nurse migration and policy.


Using the qualitative data, a thematic framework was created to conceptualize participants’ perceptions of how nurse migration has driven the policy development process. The framework demonstrates that policymakers have recognised the complexity of the brain drain phenomenon and are crafting dynamic policies and programmes that work to shift domestic and global mindsets on nurse training, employment and recruitment.


Development of responsive policy to Filipino nurse brain drain offers a glimpse into a domestic response to an increasingly prominent global issue. As a major source of professionals migrating abroad for employment, the Philippines has formalised efforts to manage nurse migration. Accordingly, the Philippine paradigm, summarised by the thematic framework presented in this paper, may act as an example for other countries that are experiencing similar shifts in healthcare worker employment due to migration.

Nurse migration; Brain drain; Brain circulation; Human resources for health; Filipino nurses; Philippines