Greece’s Brain Drain Hits Home


After a week in Athens, one thing stuck out the most during this trip. Many of my friends have left. I experienced the devastating impact of the financial crisis that has this country in shackles for the past several years: brain drain.

Search “brain drain Greece” on Google and you’ll see countless articles and staggering statistics, leaving you to wonder who is left to run the country.

According to an excellent report by Joanna Kakissis for NPR, Four thousand doctors have left Greece for work abroad— primarily because the state-run healthcare system can’t meet salary requirements for public hospitals. More than half of them are in Germany.

Greek science and research is also feeling the pinch as tens of thousands of researchers are leaving for better-funded programs abroad— especially in the United States. In 2012, against all the odds, the proportion of the Greece’s researchers that contributed to the top 1% of the most-cited articles in publications— the lifeblood of research— ranked 13th in the world, above Canada, Italy and France.

Varvara Trachana, an unemployed biologist shared her story in Nature and wrote of the damaging effect of brain drain on Greek research.

According to a report by the University of Thessaloniki in 2013— citing statistics from 2012 and before, more than 120,000 professionals – doctors, engineers and scientists – have left Greece since the start of the country’s economic crisis in 2010. What’s worse, new statistics who things getting worse.

As I arrived in Athens this trip, I began texting and calling friends like I always do. These are friends I maintain casual contact with and occasionally see when I’m here to share a coffee and a chat. Despite Facebook and all of the social media that keep us connected, I was shocked at what I found. Since my last trip in January, 6 people I know— all talented and educated young people who once had hopes for a bright future in this country— have left.

Most left for London, including Mike— who took a job at a UK film production company producing commercials. He explained to me that work in Greece just wasn’t consistent and when there was work, the employer often took advantage of the situation and delayed payments to contracted employees for upwards of 6-8 months.

“This is no way to live,” Mike explained to me as we said goodbye to each other this past week, packed with his dreams, his clothes and a determined “meraki” to succeed.

It’s sad to see this country lose so many of its young people. It’s sad to see Mike go. But like all of them who have left, I wish them well.

The photo in the post was sent via whatsapp messenger when he arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport. Shortly after taking his selfie that he sent to me, he was stopped by British police and told that cameras were not allowed in this secure area of the airport…

Once a Greek, always a Greek… rebel at heart. This is why they succeed when they leave. Good luck Mike!

And speaking of London and Greeks, who can forget Aegean Airlines’ hilarious commercial called “More Greeks in London”, playing softly perhaps on the influx of Greeks arriving in the British capital to start their new lives.


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