x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Licence rules waived for Emirati medics

Health authorities exempt the country's graduates from certain licensing and practising requirements to encourage homegrown professionals in healthcare.

Health authorities have waived some working requirements for Emirati doctors in a bid to combat physician shortages.

But some doctors are worried about possible effects on patient safety.

Last year, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) waived the two-year experience requirement for all of the country's graduates, which is applicable to physicians from abroad.

Emiratis are also exempt from taking HAAD's medical exam. Expatriate graduates of UAE universities are required to take the test.

Graduates who leave UAE programmes with four-year bachelor's degrees must go through credentialing and verification procedures before getting a licence, which is linked to the facility the physician chooses.

Doctors educated outside the UAE must have two years' experience and a medical degree.

Dr Hatem Al Ameri, head of postgraduate education at HAAD, said scrapping the experience requirement aimed to encourage local graduates into the field.

Previously, they were stuck in a loop - hospitals required work experience yet they did not have any to offer. This made it very difficult for a UAE graduate to find a job.

The Ministry of Health is using similar policies, but does not issue licences unless doctors choose to work at a private facility.

The ministry waived its experience requirement for local graduates, whether Emirati or expatriate, several years ago.

Graduates are employed immediately at a government hospital.

Emirati graduates train for one year then are evaluated and given the status of starter general practitioner (GP). After two years, they can work independently as a GP.

As at HAAD, only expatriate graduates must take the oral and written exams. Nearly 26 per cent of doctors in the ministry's facilities are UAE nationals.

Dr Ahmed Al Zarooni, director of medical licensing at the ministry, said these GPs can open their own clinics in certain cases. "For example, if there is a great need for a clinic in a particular emirate," he said.

Private hospitals have expressed unease at the changes.

"Stringent criteria must be met to ensure a patient's safety and quality of health care. If they fear there is a shortfall in skills, extensive training at hospitals must be provided," said Dr Pietie Loubser, chief clinical officer at Emirates Healthcare. "This is true across the board for all doctors."

Locally educated doctors practising under HAAD supervision must be trained before they can practise independently. Part of HAAD's continuing education requirement, the training is reviewed annually when physicians renew their licences.

HAAD also introduced Personal Qualification Requirements, a manual that lists prerequisites for specialist physicians.

Five universities in the country offer a bachelor's degree in medicine and a one-year internship. For those who wish to specialise, HAAD offers a four- to five-year postgraduate programme called Tanseeq. Its 120 spaces are currently filled.

HAAD is looking at bringing the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education, which accredits postgraduate training programmes in the US, to Abu Dhabi.

"What we're trying to accomplish is what comes after the bachelor's degree," said Dr Al Ameri. "A bachelor's degree in medicine is almost like nothing. If I know I have nothing from the start, I may not even consider going into the field. But if there are locally available programmes that can give me international recognition, that changes."

In Dubai, graduates must pursue higher qualifications before they practise. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) offers a Dubai Residency Training Programme, open to Emiratis and expatriate doctors who attend university in the UAE. Preference is given to nationals.

Over the past four to five years, 203 graduates have enrolled. Ninety-two are nationals. Sixty new residents are expected to join this year. They are trained to sit postgraduate assessments, such as the Arab Board and Royal College exams.

The Ministry of Health does not offer a residency programme.

In the US, physicians complete four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school and a three to seven-year residency. To specialise, doctors complete a fellowship of one to three years.

In the UK, physicians must have four years of undergraduate education and four to six years of medical school. Trainee doctors then enter a two-year foundation programme at a National Health Service hospital. Specialist training varies depending on speciality.