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The Unseen Consequences of the Puerto Rican Brain Drain

Brain Drain happens when the opportunities in a country or place for educated people favors them leaving permanently the area.

I've noticed that Puerto Rico suffers from a Brain Drain since I was in college fifteen years ago, but now finally the unseen consequences of this brain drain are being felt. With the downturn in the economy many professionals have left (many to Texas) and Puerto Rico for the first time lost population in the 2010 census.

Brain drain has seen and unseen consequences. For example due to a lack of internships many doctors are leaving the island to complete their training abroad and never return. In my family alone four doctors trained in the University of Puerto Rico Medical School are now abroad and likely will stay that way permanently. While moving outside of Puerto Rico involves becoming a minority in the larger US, that is not as much a concern for English-speaking professionals who are already familiar with American culture since they were kids.Their ability to navigate this now sister culture is a much easier transition than it at first may seem. With this transition they gain a far better economic future for their families, even in this bad economic times and lately Puerto Rico has been encouraging their absence with plans like Ley 7, which gives laid-off government workers a one-way ticket to the US (need reference) to find work there.

But I worry more about the unseen consequences of this Brain Drain. While everybody notices the difficulty in finding an Orthopedic Doctor in the island, few will notice the impact of the loss of a population of avid readers, and patrons of the arts or specialized businesses may have. As I have wanted to be a writer for a long time, the potential pool of readers in the island is a concern to me. But also the potential patrons of opera, or challenging intelligent plays. When there are no people with an appreciation for these mediums they become undervalued by society.

I once in Puerto Rico asked a guy of my age what was the last book he had read. He answered with an American classic, a complex book I would have avoided reading. When I asked him what interested him in it, he said it was assigned to him -- in class. When I specified I meant reading for pleasure, he was shocked. He could not understand that people would read for pleasure. While reading is not for everyone, the fact that he thought the norm was not-reading caught me by surprise.

But quite possibly the most dangerous consequence of Brain Drain is politics. With fewer professionals that can understand the complexity of the issues facing the island, from economic, environmental to partisan politics, the population is left with less experts as resources for explaining them, and few will have the time commitment to fully understand the issue themselves. Furthermore Puerto Rico may find itself lacking the people it needs to tackle the challenges of the future as those that can leave and are not be available to lead, administer or accomplish many of the tasks here. If the pool of available candidates for a political post is slim, brain drain likely contributed to that.

While Brain Drain is becoming more obvious now, Puerto Rico still produces a large amount of professionals each year. There is not reason things have to continue this way. In the past many people left to be trained abroad to then return to the island, like my grand parents did, now the trend seem to be that many people train here to leave the island. But if they are given compelling reason to stay or come back the trend can be reversed.


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