On average, a doctor pursuing a medical career spends five years in training and a surgeon spends seven years. Given that investment, many Emiratis might be reluctant to enter the profession if it meant leaving their families and spending that period abroad.
Like education, the healthcare sector depends on the involvement of citizens. A country should not rely entirely on foreign expertise to provide health-care services, a point the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) is working on.
As The National reported yesterday, the authority has eased the licensing requirements for medical graduates to help them develop skills in the workplace. Instead of having to complete two years of experience, graduates can now be licensed after they complete a one-year internship. The new policy circumvents the Catch-22 situation where a graduate cannot work without a licence and cannot obtain a licence without experience, which would often compel graduates to travel abroad looking for jobs.
Although most health professionals who work abroad eventually return, making it easier for them to hone their skills inside the country will help to boost the number of UAE nationals in the health sector. But this is just an initial step. To make an Emiratised health sector a reality, more steps should be taken. More training hospitals and more placements in those hospitals should be introduced.
The major hospitals in Abu Dhabi, like Khalifa Medical City and Mafraq Hospital, do offer such placements but they are restricted in numbers. Smaller hospitals, especially private hospitals, do not offer internships mainly because they do not wish to invest in new graduates, preferring an immediate return on investment by hiring qualified doctors. This is a misguided policy and these hospitals should be encouraged, possibly through financial incentives, to open placements for new graduates and train them under supervision.
As it stands, the proportion of Emiratis in the capital's health sector is declining, from 7.1 per cent last year to 6.4 per cent this year. There is a particular shortage in physicians (only 1 per cent of physicians are Emiratis) and nurses. This is partly because the sector is expanding but health authorities must continue to encourage Emiratis to improve their skills inside the country.