Health Economics, Policy and Law (2006), 1: 59–78 Printed in the United Kingdom
ª Cambridge University Press 2006 doi:10.1017/S1744133105001027
Cross-national comparisons of human resources
for health – what can we learn?
carl-ardy dubois* and martin mckee
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Abstract: After a long period of neglect, the issue of human resources for health
(HRH) has recently emerged as a core component on the international health
agenda, with policy makers increasingly eager to learn from experience elsewhere.
This article investigates systematically the opportunities and challenges associated
with the use of cross-national comparisons of HRH policies and practices. It
reviews the evidence in favour of using international comparative studies on HRH,
discusses emerging opportunities for developing a cross-national research agenda
to guide HRH policies in Europe, and highlights obstacles which may hinder the
implementation of comparative studies on HRH. While demonstrating many
opportunities offered by the comparative approach to improve understanding of
human resources processes in the health sector, this article also emphasizes the
dangers of simplistic pleas for the transfer of human resource policies without
taking into account the context-specific factors and the generative capacity of the
social actors in the design and implementation of policy changes.
In an increasingly global environment, cross-national comparisons of health sys-
tems offer valuable opportunities to draw on a broad array of reform experi-
ences (Reinhardt et al., 2002). Health policy makers, challenged to reconcile
the seemingly insatiable demands with finite resources, have increasingly
realized the benefits of learning from experience elsewhere (Globerman et al.,
2001; Ranade, 1998; Reinhardt et al., 2002).
After a long period of neglect, the issue of human resources has gained much
greater prominence on the international health agenda as both a barrier to and
opportunity for effective reform of