On EA messaging—being a doctor in a poorer country

EA has growing communities in low and middle-income countries. Off the top of my head: Philippines, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya.

This is very good. It also means that EA orgs and communicators should move away from “western-by-default” messaging and thinking[1].

Here’s an instance of how assuming readers are all western can lead to wrong, or at least incompletely thought-through, conclusions.

EA thinking tends to lead people in the US/​UK away from being doctors. I’ve heard “don’t be a doctor if you care about people” used as a shorthand for the at-first-counterintuitive recommendations EA can sometimes give.

But, in poorer countries, it might be reasonable on EA grounds to be a doctor:

It may be that it still nets out that being a doctor is not the best career choice for people in poorer countries. Seems pretty uncertain, because I don’t think anyone has thought about it in detail. In the 80k hours post, the top-level recommendation “people likely to succeed at medical school admission could have a greater impact outside medicine” is only backed up with evidence from US/​UK.

Takeaway: As EA attracts people from all over the world, we need to move away from “western-by-default” communications to ensure people get the correct, and correctly-reasoned, advice.

  1. ^

    In many circumstances it will still make sense to focus on a western audience for different types of communication. But this should be a decision based on the specifics of what you’re communicating, not an unthinking default based on “all EAs are western”

  2. ^

    Quick back of the envelope on this based on stats from an 80k interview with Gregory Lewis:

    • Assume that over a UK career, a doctor saves saves 6 lives. You could do the same by donating ~$30k (assuming $5k per life saved)

    • He says it could be 10x in a developing country (here he says it could be more like 40-50x). This would require donating $300k to offset

    • A very very good job in Kenya would be earning $50k /​ year. Someone making that much and donating 10% would not donate $300k over their lifetime (unless they worked for 60 years)

    • -> being a doctor looks pretty reasonable for someone in Kenya, relative to earning to give