TBY talks to Dr. Qasem Bin Ahmed Al Salmi, Director General of the Royal Hospital, on the state of the healthcare sector in Oman, and the need to train more national staff.

Dr. Qasem Bin Ahmed Al Salmi
Dr Qasem Al Salmi, MD, MPH is the Director General of the Royal Hospital, a position he has held since late 2009. Dr Al Salmi is an American Board certified pediatric pulmonologist, who earned his medical doctoral degree from the College of Medicine, Sultan Qaboos University in 1994. He completed his residency and fellowship training and earned a Master’s degree in Public Health from Houston, Texas.

How would you assess Oman's progress in the healthcare sector?

In a study covering 191 countries in 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked Oman as first in the world for its highly efficient health system and for the effective and competent utilization of the available financial resources in health services. Oman was also rated eighth for providing the most comprehensive healthcare at a global level. Approximately 14 years since then, I think that we have not only maintained the high quality of our healthcare services, but we have consolidated our successes even further. To further build on our strengths and address any deficiencies, the Ministry of Health conducted an international conference on Health Vision 2050 in May 2012, followed by a series of workshops to develop a national, integrated health policy and set out clear action plans and targets to be accomplished in the coming years. We are proud of the progress made by the Ministry of Health during the reign of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said and can say with confidence that the citizens of this country are fortunate to enjoy healthcare services of a high standard, free of charge, and something that even highly developed countries can only dream of.

What is the Royal Hospital's role in the Sultanate's medical environment?

The Royal Hospital, established in December 1987, is the country's apex referral center with regard to the specialties and sub-specialties of medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, oncology, anesthesia and critical care, radiology, nuclear medicine, laboratory medicine, and pathology. It complements other Ministry of Health tertiary-care hospitals, namely Khoula Hospital, Al Nahdha Hospital, and Al Masarra Hospital. It also works closely with the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, the Armed Forces Hospital, and the Royal Oman Police Hospital. The Royal Hospital's mission is to improve the health of the people it serves and manage illness by providing tertiary-level, state-of-the-art healthcare with maximum efficiency, effectiveness, patient satisfaction, and safety. Being the leading referral center for the country, the Royal Hospital plays a leadership role with respect to its specialties and sub-specialties. The consultants of the Royal Hospital are thus actively involved in all Ministry of Health programs for non-communicable diseases and infection control. The Royal Hospital is also a teaching hospital for the undergraduate programs of the Sultan Qaboos University College of Medicine, the residency program of the Oman Medical Specialty Board, and the nursing and paramedical programs run by various Ministry of Health training institutes.

How are you solving the problem of a shortage of qualified local medical professionals?

All directors and heads of service at the Royal Hospital are Omanis. Approximately 60% of the 185 senior doctors are Omani, all of whom have returned after advanced specialization in the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries. Since most Omani junior- and middle-level doctors at the Royal Hospital are undergoing graduate training under the Oman Medical Specialty Board, 85% of our 147 specialists, junior specialists, and medical officer posts are filled by expatriates. Around 52% of the 1,487 nurses, 81% of the 112 pharmacists and assistant pharmacists, 65% of the 174 technologists and technicians, and 68% of the 88 other paramedical staff are Omanis. The medical orderlies, and administrative and clerical staff are all Omanis. It is evident that the hospital does not have a major shortage of a qualified local workforce. There are many Omanis undergoing MD training at the College of Medicine of Sultan Qaboos University and at the Oman Medical College. A good number of them will enroll for graduate training conducted by the Oman Medical Specialty Board, and then will invariably go abroad for sub-specialization. Many doctors are also expected back from training abroad. We expect that most medical professionals at Royal Hospital will be Omani in a few years. There are exceptions, however, like pediatric cardiac surgery and pediatric surgery, where Omanis are lacking. What is significant is that the quality of the Omani workforce is very good, and most specialty and sub-specialty services are even now being managed and run by Omanis.