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Healthcare

Healthcare is regarded as one of the fastest growing sectors in the Middle East. Healthcare spend in the GCC in 2011 was estimated to be $46.12bn and this is expected to reach $133.19bn in 2018, due to a rising population, an increase in lifestyle diseases and deeper insurance penetration.

There are numerous high profile healthcare projects being built across the region, both by governments and by private foreign healthcare investors, with big names like Cleveland Clinic and King’s College London, joining companies already established in the market, including Johns Hopkins, Imperial College London, Cornell University and Moorfield’s.

Whether working within a Government or a private hospital, Doctors moving to the Gulf region will have the opportunity to work alongside a truly global workforce in state of the art facilities, with the latest technologies and without budgetary constraints. There are also opportunities to bring new skills and experience to the market, shaping healthcare expectations in this fast developing region.

Standards are remarkably high for such a fast developing sector, with the majority of hospitals JCI Accredited, or at least working towards JCI Accreditation. The Middle East has changed enormously over the last 50 years and continues to do so. The healthcare sector is integral to the regions continuing growth and development, and the investment being made
clearly reflects this.

What opportunities are there?

The majority of opportunities in the Gulf are at Consultant level, working in hospitals or specialist clinics, both government and private. The qualifications and experience needed to practise as a Consultant depends on where you did your training. If specialist training was done in the UK (a Tier 1 country) you need to have 2 years post-CCT experience to work as a Consultant. Tier 2 countries require 8 years’ experience post specialisation.

Due to the Middle Eastern culture of self-referral there has been a lack of opportunities for GPs, but this is starting to change. The Ministries of Health in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have all put policies in place to massively increase their primary healthcare offerings, which should see a growth in opportunities for overseas GPs in the near future.

Unfortunately there are no real opportunities for Junior Doctors to go to the Gulf. There are only a few training hospitals and they are focussed on training local physicians, not offering places for overseas graduates. Also, Consultant-led care is the norm across the region, further limiting opportunities.

Registration & Immigration

The process of obtaining medical registration in the Gulf will vary depending on the country you decide to work in (and in the UAE, the emirate you are employed in will also affect the process). Gaining licensure will involve a number of steps that may involve assessments, background checks, certificates of good standing and a required number of years of practise depending on your specialisation. Generally speaking, you must hold a medical qualification listed from a medical school listed in the International Medical Education Directory of the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research.

Similarly, visa application processes vary by country, but generally speaking once a job offer has been made the prospective employer will play a large part in helping you obtain the relevant employment / residence visa. For further information it is
best to contact your Workplace Doctors Recruitment Specialist who will be able to provide you with details relevant to your desired location.

The links below also provide useful guidance on some of the requirements stipulated by the different countries in the Gulf region:

Qatar Supreme Council of Health
UAE Ministry of Health
Saudi Arabia Ministry of Health
Kuwait Ministry of Health

Cultural Awareness / Etiquette

Although the Middle East is a large expanse of geography with a variety of countries and customs, noting the following general points of etiquette can be useful when dealing with people who have been raised according to the traditions of the Middle East:

  • It is best to avoid discussions about religion and the politics of the Middle East. Always bear in mind that you are expected to behave in a way that fits in with your fellow residents.
  • As a general rule, women’s clothing should cover the tops of the arms and legs.Anything that is revealing should be kept to the privacy of your home.
  • Public displays of affection between people of the opposite gender, including married couples, are generally frowned upon. This can include activities as minor as hand-holding.
  • Displaying the sole of one’s foot or touching somebody with one’s shoe is often considered rude. This includes sitting with one’s feet or foot elevated. In some circumstances, shoes should be removed before entering a living room.
  • Many in the Middle East do not separate professional and personal life. Doing business revolves much more around personal relationships, family ties, trust and honor. There is a tendency to prioritize personal matters above all else. It is therefore crucial that business relationships are built on mutual friendship and trust.
  • Muslims are obliged to pray five times a day, therefore daily routines, appointments and meetings must be fitted in appropriately around prayer times. Friday is the day for congregational prayers and it is obligatory for all males to attend.
  • The traditional Islamic greeting you will hear is ‘Asalamu alaykum’ (peace be with you). As a non-Muslim you would not be expected to use it, but if you did you would receive the reply ‘wa alaykum salam’ (and peace be with you).
  • The roles of men and women are far more defined in the Arab culture and interaction between the sexes is still frowned upon in certain arenas.If you are introduced to a woman as a male, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is extended. If it is not, then do not try to shake hands. Avoid touching and prolonged eye contact with women.
  • Never refuse refreshments offered, as this will be taken as an insult to your host. Once you have received your refreshment, you may however just take a sip and leave the rest in the glass or cup. Generally speaking, sweet black tea with fresh mint, small glasses of fragrant coffee, fruit juice or water will be offered.
  • You will be expected to remove your shoes on entering a private residence so it is important to ensure you have clean feet or wear respectable socks. If you are invited for a meal in a private home that is eaten at floor level, remember to sit so that the soles of your feet do not face anyone. Only take food with your right hand. Do not explicitly admire anything belonging to your host. Your host would then be honour bound to make you a gift of the item, and would in turn expect a gift of the same stature in return at a later stage.

The points above are by no means a fully exhaustive list of do’s and dont’s for the Gulf region, and more research should be undertaken once you are aware of where exactly it is that you will be working.

Saudi Arabia

Population: 26 million
Capital: Riyadh
Area: 2.24 million sq. km
Official language: Arabic
Currency: 1 Riyal = 100 halalah

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has become one of the wealthiest nations in the region thanks to vast oil resources. Sitting on more than 25% of the world’s known oil reserves, the country is capable of producing more than 10 million barrels per day. The Kingdom is one of the major players in the Arab and Muslim worlds, its stature built on geographic size, prestige as the birthplace of Islam, and oil. The working population is very multi-cultural due to a wide variety of job opportunities, competitive salaries and benefits for all nationalities.

With its rich heritage and colourful past, Saudi Arabia is imbued with tradition and culture. The Kingdom has over 600 annual storytelling, dance and dramatic arts festivals. Of these, the colourful Janadriya Festival is the largest event, celebrating aspects of Saudi culture including fine arts, folk dancing, painting, weaving, literature, traditional and modern poetry.

Almost all items and well-known brands can be found in Saudi Arabia. Malls have an array of restaurants and fast food outlets like Domino’s Pizza, KFC and Starbucks. In addition to the modern malls, you will find every town has a variety of traditional shopping centres, and a number of fascinating souks (covered markets).

Education

Local state schools are usually not an option for foreign children. There are numerous private schools which cater to the expat community and well-to-do Saudi families. Often, these private schools are under government control to a certain extent, in order to ensure that curriculum and standards of education meet those of state schools.

The language of instruction is often English, and classes are co-educational. Families with older children, however, should make sure that the curriculum and standards of education are similar to those in their home country in order to ease the transition, especially with a view to their children’s qualifying for higher education.

Expat families with children usually opt for international schools, of which there are a few in cities like Jeddah, Riyadh, or Al-Khobar. Some of them follow certain national curricula (e.g. British, American, Indian, and Pakistani); others offer the International Baccalaureate or a combination of international and third-country curricula. Some schools are affiliated with their national government and therefore may not accept third-country students. Most international schools incorporate pre-school, primary and secondary school under one roof. As places are limited, make sure to apply as soon as possible.

Healthcare

Healthcare in Saudi Arabia is made up of a combination of government health facilities and private medical practices, many of which are staffed by English-speaking doctors. Most Western expatriates opt for private healthcare, with many employers providing medical insurance as part of a benefits package.

Private medical insurance is compulsory for all foreign nationals visiting or living in Saudi Arabia. This insurance is normally provided by the employer and enables the use of either state-run or private clinics and hospitals. With the exception of specialist government hospitals, private facilities are generally preferred by most Western expatriates as they are less crowded and provide a better service.

Basic and specialist healthcare and medical treatment provided are on a par with Western Europe or North America. There are 1,600 government-operated health centres across the country, with a similar number of private facilities. Most neighbourhoods (and many of the larger compounds) have at least one private clinic providing primary healthcare. Most healthcare staff are foreign and English is the common language in most hospitals and clinics (both government-run and private). While there is strict segregation of the sexes in general society in Saudi Arabia, most clinics and hospitals are open to both men and women, and a female patient can be seen by a male doctor and vice-versa.

Cost of Living

You’ll soon notice that there are a lot of construction projects going on in Saudi Arabian cities, as apartment blocks and family houses are being built in great numbers and at great speed to cater to the growing urban population. Most expats live in compounds: low-rise apartment blocks that form some sort of gated community. The more luxurious among them come with their own swimming pool, tennis courts, gym, children’s playground, shops, and restaurant. The apartments themselves are usually spacious and well maintained. Whatever type of accommodation you are going for, make sure it provides covered parking facilities to protect your vehicle from sand, dust, and high temperatures. Foreign residents have only been allowed to own property in Saudi Arabia since 2011, therefore most expats live in rented accommodation. A lot of big companies with a significant share of foreign employees have special deals with local landlords or estate agents, which enable them to offer a certain contingent of accommodation to their expat staff. The renting process itself is relatively straightforward, though you should make sure to have a certified English translation of the Arabic contract. Most accommodation is unfurnished, and there are short and long-term contracts available, ranging from one month to one year. As per usual, any damage done to the property exceeding the boundaries of fair wear and tear will have to be paid for.

Transport

Saudi Arabia has recently undergone an upgrading of its road network, and this is now of the highest standard. You can drive for up to three months in Saudi Arabia on the licence from your home country or on an international licence. After this time, you are required to have a Saudi driving licence. Some licences, including those from the UK and US, are convertible to a Saudi licence without a driving test.

The majority of Western expatriates in Saudi Arabia use cars as the primary method of transport (privately owned and rental), or use private drivers or taxis. However, there are some public transport options available that provide other ways to get around. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and there are rules about women being in a car with an unrelated man, even a driver, however this is commonly overlooked for foreign nationals, especially those from Western countries.

Hiring a car is possible for any male visitor to Saudi Arabia over 25 years of age who has held a driving licence in the country of origin for over one year. Driving licences are accepted from countries such as the UK and US, or International Driving Permits can be used. Extreme care should be taken when first driving in the country. It is advisable to use a driver or taxis for a while before driving alone. In addition, it is recommended to always pay for comprehensive insurance.

Taxis can be found in all the major cities, however, after major changes of the taxi system in late 2012, taxis cannot be hailed from the street or any other fixed location, and must be reserved in advance, even in busy venues such as airports and shopping centres. Fares are not always charged by meter, so it is best to agree on the fare when booking a taxi or before setting off on your journey.

Applying for jobs

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