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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

More residency programmes needed to boost number of Emirati specialist physicians

Currently, many doctors head overseas for specialist training positions

Dr. Jamal Alamiri  at the Mayo Clinic. (Handout Photo)
Dr. Jamal Alamiri at the Mayo Clinic. (Handout Photo)

A lack of training programmes in many areas of medicine is hampering efforts to persuade more Emiratis to become specialist doctors, experts say.

Training in several specialities is available only abroad, requiring doctors to leave their families for long periods. Many are reluctant to do.

Dr Humaid Al Shamsi, an oncologist and associate professor at the University of Sharjah College of Medicine, believes more residency programmes would encourage Emiratis who choose medicine to specialise.

“We have a good number of students choosing medicine but not all of them go for a sub-speciality for many reasons,” Dr Al Shamsi said.

“They include the lack of availability in the country, having to move abroad and leaving their loved ones behind, and the difficulty of being accepted at a medical facility outside the country, which can be very competitive.”

Recently, Abu Dhabi and Dubai health authorities have embarked on campaigns to encourage Emiratis to enter the medical profession

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi launched a social media campaign in April to encourage them to pursue careers in medicine and the healthcare sector, targeting citizens between the ages of 16 and 18.

The Dubai Health Authority launched a programme last year to show the merits of working in medicine to young people at schools and universities.

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“Specialisation training programmes are available here but not for all specialties, and we are trying to provide one for oncology,” Dr Al Shamsi said.

“Students should think deeply and consult experts and specialists in order to choose a suitable specialty as some of them require years of studying and research, therefore students should be aware of the long process.

“They should also invest their time in research and look for specialties that are rarely available in the country, such as surgery or oncology.

“The Khalifa Foundation can help them and guide them through the process but they should keep in mind that it’s a long process that requires hard work, dedication and passion.”

He is the first gastrointestinal oncologist in the country and works at a US centre in partnership with the Khalifa Foundation.

“Noticing many patients travelling abroad for cancer treatment and my passion to make a difference made me take the decision and specialise in oncology and eventually be the first gastrointestinal oncologist,” Dr Al Shamsi said.

“It wasn’t easy and required more than 10 years of hard work, but it sure is worth it.”

There are 2,289 Emiratis working in the healthcare sector, of which 49 per cent are doctors and 14 per cent nurses. Nine per cent work in dentistry, 4 per cent in pharmaceuticals and the remaining 24 per cent provide support.

Only 1 per cent of nurses in Dubai are Emirati and 14 per cent of paramedics are nationals, who also make up only 27 per cent of doctors working for the health authority.

The Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, or Seha, said in September that despite having more than 7,000 Seha nurses in Abu Dhabi, only 124 are Emiratis and only one of them is male.

One of those who decided it was worth taking up a specialist residency abroad is Dr Jamal Al Amiri, 28, an Emirati who joined the urology programme at the Mayo Clinic in the US.

One of his goals is to establish a world-class urology service and residency programme in the UAE.

“I made a difficult decision at a young age to leave the comfort of my country, my family and my loved ones to pursue a dream,” Dr Al Amiri said.

“This dream, for which I have worked relentlessly, is to be an extraordinary physician who will one day return to his home country to advance their healthcare system.

“The healthcare system in the UAE is evolving rapidly but we have a shortage of Emirati urologists and we do not have a urology residency programme to help fill this gap.

“This has encouraged me to set goals and a vision of what I want to contribute to the system in the future.”

Joining the Mayo Clinic will be the foundation on which he can build his dream,” he said.

“By getting acceptance to one of the most competitive urology residency programmes in the US, I have the opportunity to learn from the experience of world-renowned urologists and achieve my goals,” Dr Al Amiri said.

“I am the first Emirati resident at Mayo Clinic, which is a huge honour for me and my country. I wouldn’t have achieved this without the support of my country throughout my career.”

He was inspired by his late father, who established the first urology department at Sharjah’s Al Qassimi Hospital.

“I was 7 years-old when I lost my father,” Dr Al Amiri said. “He is my inspiration to pursue this dream. I am grateful that I witnessed and can remember the role my father played as a physician.”