AL AIN // A degree in veterinary medicine is to be offered for the first time.
The course to train homegrown vets will be launched at UAE University this autumn.
There are only four Emirati animal doctors currently - and only two of them practice. The others hold administrative positions.
But there is a great need for nationals in this field, according to Dr Ghaleb Al Hadrami, head of UAEU's school of food and agriculture, which will run the five-year bachelors degree.
"There are 400 jobs out there waiting to be filled if we had the graduates," Dr Al Hadrami said. "They would hire them tomorrow."
Starting salaries will be about Dh30,000 a month.
Most students will be sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) and the Ministry of Environment and Water, which will also offer work placements. Some Dubai Municipality staff are also expected to take the course.
Sarah Ledos, the manager of Dubai Veterinary Hospital, said access to practical experience was key to success in the field.
She admitted there was a huge gap between the education of vets coming to the UAE from countries such as the Philippines and India compared with the UK or US, because the wester countries have better facilities and educational resources, such as laboratories.
"People from the Philippines have to be retrained on a number of points when they come here," she said.
But UAEU's vet students will have access to clinics and the new animal hospital run by the ADFCA, which will help them get vital hands-on experience.
Until now, Emiratis who wanted to become vets have had to study abroad. Majid Al Qassimi, one of the two practising vets, studied in the UK and Hungary.
Dr Al Qassimi, who used to work for Al Ain Zoo but is now with the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, said that while the degree was very welcome, there was much to be done to educate schoolchildren about the profession, and to break down stigmas attached to it.
"It's considered a dirty job," he said. "It's not everybody's first choice and awareness around here is very little."
He said that over the past 40 years, Emiratis had gone from being dependent on animals, such as camels and falcons, for survival, and now had little association with them.
"Most locals don't even take their pets to the vet," he said. "It's the maids who do that and even with falcons it tends to be the trainers, not the owners, who we see."
Dr Al Qassimi said it was vital there were more Emirati vets, not just to work on the growing number of farms or private clinics, but to help with issues such as disease control and food security.
During his studies, he addressed issues such as quarantine and disease-control laws, plus some that could pose ethical dilemmas for Muslims, such as euthanasia.
"People have to understand these issues as the vet is the only person who can make that call," he said. "These can be very challenging when it comes to religion."
The course is not the UAE's first covering veterinary medicine - the Higher Colleges of Technology offers a two-year diploma, but it does not go into the depth needed for a qualified vet.
The UAEU degree will include locally focused courses such as training in camel and equine sport medicine, as well as meat inspection relating to slaughterhouses.
It will also cover elements of chemistry, biology and biochemistry and pharmacology, plus ethics and animal welfare and nutrition.
"It's the broadest science degree there is," said Dr Al Qassimi. "It covers more breadth and depth than anything else."