Rob L. Wagner روب لستر واقنر

January 29, 2016

Medical Staff Shortages Spur Saudis to Act

By Rob L. Wagner

The Arab Weekly

29 January 2016

Jeddah – Female pre-med and nurs­ing students at the King Saud bin Abdulaziz Uni­versity for Health Sciences spend classroom time lis­tening to professors’ lectures while surreptitiously going over their notes for the next class.

They are the new breed of health care students: conscientious, ambi­tious and allergic to wasting time. Female pre-med and nursing stu­dents of 2016 are a sharp contrast to women a decade ago who shunned nursing, which was deemed shame­ful because of the proximity to male patients.

Today, Saudi women with a broader worldview are turning to the medical field in increasing num­bers to take advantage of good sala­ries and a chance at independence.

The Saudi Ministry of the Na­tional Guard and the Education Ministry have embarked on an am­bitious programme to establish a Western model of high academic medical training standards to boost the numbers of Saudis graduating with bachelor’s degrees in nursing and medicine.

It’s not an easy task. Only 812 Saudi nurses graduated from pri­vate and government universities in 2014. Saudi Arabia requires at least 7,000 nurses each year to fill the needs of government and private hospitals, according to the consul­tancy firm McKinsey and Company. An estimated 82% of the doctors and 74% of the nurses are foreign­ers, McKinsey said. There are 16 physicians and 36 nurses per 10,000 people in Saudi Arabia, far lower than 30 doctors and 58 nurses per 10,000 in neighbouring Bahrain.

Dr Taqwa Omar, dean of the Saudi National Guard’s College of Nursing, said Saudi Arabia has 26 government nursing colleges and 21 private institutions. However, student admissions are limited be­cause colleges lack the faculty to teach. Only three of the 47 colleges have teaching hospitals.

“We are struggling to recruit fac­ulty,” Omar said.

Health care officials must con­tend with these challenges against the backdrop of the recently an­nounced government fiscal auster­ity programme and the intention to privatise hospitals to reduce gov­ernment expenditures on health.

Expat doctors and nurses are fill­ing the kingdom’s health care ranks at a time when there is a significant demand for more hospital beds due to a sharp increase in cases of heart disease and diabetes stemming from an obesity rate twice the aver­age of other countries.

“The problem in Saudi Arabia is that they have been training nurses for some time but they are not fill­ing the needs,” said Helen Ziegler of Helen Ziegler and Associates, a Toronto recruiting company that sends medical professionals to for­eign countries.

Ziegler said recruitment agencies can’t meet the demand for Western-trained nurses and doctors in Saudi Arabia. “Hospitals want very specif­ic people and want people to work in (the emergency room),” Ziegler said. “We send about 120 nurses from North America to Saudi Arabia every year.

“The salary is good at about $60,000 a year. It’s tax-free and some hospitals offer up to seven calendar weeks off each year. Many people go over there for five, six, seven years.”

To reverse the trend of hiring foreign nurses, Saudi government universities have pushed for higher academic standards that require fluency in English and at least a bachelor’s of arts or science degree instead of a simple diploma.

The National Guard has estab­lished a two-year pre-professional programme that introduces English and basic science courses to nursing students before they go on to nurs­ing and medicine curriculum. The programme is especially vital for Saudi students educated in public schools where rote learning is the method of teaching and English-speaking skills may be mediocre.

“We try to change the learning process and we want them now to be more critical thinkers,” Omar said.

There is less societal pressure on Saudi women to take nursing jobs. An estimated 60% of Saudi univer­sity graduates are women and have the potential to earn significant sal­aries. But higher academic stand­ards and competition with expats have added considerably more pro­fessional pressure.

One Jeddah university professor who teaches in the medical field said nursing interns tend to fall into two categories: One who wants a career but remains unsure how her job fits socially; they worry that a potential husband would balk at marriage if she works 12-hour night shifts. The other is enthusiastic and wants to pursue further education to specialise in one area or engage in research. Those nurses often strug­gle working under foreign supervi­sors who are not always helpful in training.

“Some expat nurses feel the Sau­dis may take their job away from them,” the professor said.

Omar said she is confident that Saudi Arabia will fill 75% of the medical positions with Saudis. “We can accomplish a reversal in the Saudi versus expat ratio,” Omar said. “It’s coming, but we just need time.”

1 Comment

  1. […] Rob L. Wagner […]

    Pingback by Medical Staff Shortages Spur Saudis to Act | DHS News — January 29, 2016 @ 08:30

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