Why does the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties end the dreams of Saudi doctors?

March 23, 2018
Rawan Abudawood

Saudi Gazette

SAUDI doctors, medical interns and medical students vented their anger and sadness, using a Twitter hashtag to reach out to the authorities and raise their voices. The hashtag, which is in Arabic, translates as ‘Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS) ends the dreams of Saudi doctors.’ What would make a sizeable number of medical interns and doctors use a hashtag of this sort? I also witnessed some of the medical interns breaking down in tears, as they felt oppressed by the SCFHS and felt there was no one who they could complain to.

Let us first start with the obstacles the medical interns believe that the SCFHS has placed in their way. We will first talk about the Saudi Medical License Exam (SMLE). According to what GP Dr. Amira Al-Shammary mentioned in an episode of YaHala, a TV show presented by Mofareh Al-Shaqiqi and aired on Rotana Khalijiya that discusses social problems, within only six months the SCFHS decided to increase the 150 questions in its exam to 300 questions over six hours. Not only that, the SCFHS also raised the pass mark from 50 percent to 60 percent. The cost of exams is also now SR1,083.

The medical interns say that it is unfair that they are unable to change the dates of their exams 15 days before unless they pay a SR56 fee.

In addition to that, many students view the exams as impossible to pass. In fact, consultants and specialists have also raised their voices hoping that this injustice will end. I will mention a few comments of doctors and consultants regarding the exams and the way medical interns are treated.

Dr. Saleh Al-Harbi, a family medicine consultant, tweeted, “It is totally unfair to allow non-Saudi doctors to work for six months before applying for the SMLE while providing everything for them to make their experience easier and at the same time putting every obstacle in the face of our sons and daughters. As for the SMLE, I looked at the exam myself and the time provided for each question. I emphasize that this test is difficult for a lot of specialists and consultants. What about our interns? Please have some empathy towards our sons and daughters.”

Professor Dr. Ayman Abdo, secretary-general of Saudi Health Specialties, said on YaHala, “During the last six months, 3,217 medical interns took the SMLE. Seventy two percent of them passed on their third attempt so the result would probably increase to 77 percent which is very logical and acceptable.”

Dr. Khalid Edrees, a consultant podiatric foot & ankle surgeon and a consultant at the Ministry of Health, said in a tweet, “After long discussions with academics, a 72 percent pass rate is not a good result. It is important to reconsider the questions because this shows that there must be obstacles in either the teaching style or the exam itself. Therefore, reconsidering the questions is crucial.”

Professor Dr. Badi Al-Enazi, pediatric consultant and assistant, also mentioned it on the YaHala show,

“There must be a problem. Is that problem in teaching the students or in evaluating them through SMLE? What we see today is that the majority of medical interns who do not get good grades are actually good students who scored high grades when in university. I looked over some of the SMLE questions and noticed that they are very advanced for GPs. Not only that, but we do not even have a study book for the exam whereas in the US there are well-known books such as Kaplan to study from. Our students cannot study from revision books. They only have their student notes and what they gather after taking the exam.”

What shocks me the most is that after six to seven years of study, this exam tests their knowledge in only six hours and then determines their future. Is it possible to end the career of medical interns in just six hours after they have worked very hard for so many years? After the episode of YaHala and the numerous complaints of medical interns on Twitter, why did we not hear anything from the Ministry of Health or from Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah?

I have sat with many interns who are knowledgeable and skilled to be GPs, a career that they have always dreamed of pursuing. The obstacles that keep coming their way shock them. Why do we have to put our sons and daughters in all of these difficulties after the difficulties they have already been through during their years of study?

Another important point I would like to draw attention to is the way the SCFHS evaluates the CVs of interns who are looking for jobs. According to the complaints I have heard from most medical interns, the SCFHS evaluates their CVs unfairly. For instance, after students send their CVs, they are evaluated and notice that they are marked down for reasons they do not understand. In other words, the SCFHS has the complete freedom to take marks off and without justifying why they have done so. Interns cannot even update their CVs once they are sent.

In fact, if interns would like the SCFHS to reconsider their CVs then they are obliged to first pay SR300. Here comes the worst part, you cannot change the documents you have already submitted for the first evaluation or add any extra documents to get a better score. Even after you pay them SR300 for the re-evaluation, the process might be done in a few minutes and you may lose even more marks. Is this not something that needs to be seriously looked at?

To finish off, here are some more comments from Twitter. “I paid a lot to prepare for my career. I even traveled to ensure that my CV is good enough for the job market. I ensured having everything the SCFHS needed in a CV and in two minutes I got an evaluation that killed all my long-awaited dreams,” said one Tweeter.

“We work very hard for the CV and at the end we get low marks without any justification or comments. If we do not get our rights from them, then God will surely satisfy us in the hereafter,” said another.

“Medical graduates were once the quickest to get hired but today they are terrified of the unknown future they will sooner or later face. What is the reason and why has this happened?” said one other person.

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