ABU DHABI // Nurses in the Middle East are generally of poor quality and will improve only if the region gets serious about local training, doctors and health officials said yesterday.
According to Obaid al Jenaidi, the president of the Emirates Nursing Association, this poor quality was partly due to the lack of opportunities for career growth. The UAE, for example, does not have any education programmes to allow nurses to advance.
"The Middle East's healthcare sector is growing rapidly, but this growth could be affected by the lack of trained nurses from national populations," Mr al Jenaidi said.
Mr al Jenaidi said that in countries such as the US, nurses spend 10 to 20 per cent of their income taking extra courses to develop their skill set, but that does not happen here.
"In our countries, little or no importance is given to the competency cycle, which is a great tool to empower and to further educate nurses" he said.
Mr al Jenaidi was speaking on the opening day of the three-day Abu Dhabi Medical Congress, which for the first time includes a nursing conference. It has brought together hundreds of nurses from various nationalities and backgrounds.
Masoumeh Kazemi, a registered nurse at the Mideast Polyclinic in Dubai, welcomed the idea of being given a chance to develop.
"This is really new insight for me, because generally we as nurses are thought of only in terms of basic care," she said.
"We would appreciate the chance to improve and specialise and become educators as well."
The region has only one centre - in Saudi Arabia - where nurses can pursue specialisations in fields such as diabetes, paediatrics and intensive care.
Khatoon al Juma, the director of nursing at a private hospital in Kuwait City, said investing in nurses' career development would help them gain respect.
"The old picture of the nurse as just a servant or a maid has changed," she said. "People know now that she doesn't just change patients and wash them."
This change in perception has led to more nationals pursuing the field of nursing - but obstacles remain.
"When a nurse is given the opportunity to specialise, to pursue a master's or a PhD, then she is proving her worth and helping to strengthen the healthcare services that a patient needs," Ms al Juma said.
Danah Smith, a lecturer in nursing from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland at the Medical University of Bahrain, agreed that there was a lack of training.
"Nurses want to pursue higher education, but in order to do that, they are going abroad, and that is too costly," she said.
She called on every country in the region to offer nurses the chance to specialise and to continue their education, not only in nursing leadership or management, but at the clinical level too.
"It not just about a doctor prescribing medication and asking the patient to come back in four months - it is about educating that patient and telling them how to live with and manage their disease, which is the nurse's job," she said.
At the congress, more than 200 healthcare specialists from around the world are discussing medical advances, service innovations and efficiency.