WORKING TOGETHER

In keeping with MOHAP's Visiting Consultants Program, Sharjah-based hospitals are welcoming seasoned physicians from across the world on a monthly basis.

Since 2015, the UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP) has been running an ongoing initiative to enhance the level of medical know-how via international collaboration not only across the UAE, but also in the Middle East.

Formally known as the Visiting Consultants Program, the scheme is often referred to as the exchange doctors program by the locals. Whatever the title, the initiative invites outstanding healthcare professionals from across the world to travel to the UAE for a short-term stay, during which time they make their services available to Emirati patients.
From the outset, Al Kuwaiti Hospital, Al Qassimi Hospital, and Al Qassimi Hospital for Women and Children in Sharjah have been among the recipients of visiting consultants with a diverse range of specialties from open heart surgery to obesity and laparoscopic surgery.

Working alongside their UAE-based colleagues, the visiting doctors, who often have honed their skills to perfection elsewhere in the world, help patients in Sharjah get back on their feet. But, just as importantly, they bring their Emirati coworkers up to speed with the latest advances in fast developing areas such as oncology, neurosurgery, non-invasive surgery, and cardiovascular surgery.

The invitees are not selected from any single country or region. Physicians from North America, East and South Asia, Europe, and the Middle East frequently participate in the scheme. In March, 2019, for instance, a team of 13 Belarusian cardiothoracic surgeons were present at Al Qassimi Hospital for Women and Children. Over the course of a week, the team held a number of workshops as well as performing surgeries.

The visit came just before the launching of new heart-related services at the Sharjah-based hospital and at a juncture when the hospital was trying to enhance the knowledge of its personnel, including its nurses and doctors, regarding the intricacies of cardiovascular care.

Al Qassimi Hospital for Women and Children is already a distinguished healthcare center not only in the Emirate but also in the UAE and one that many families with children in need of cardiovascular surgeries turn to. Dr. Ahmed Al-Kamaly, head of pediatric cardiology at the hospital, points out that the presence of international specialists has further increased interest in the hospital, giving it the potential to turn into a center of excellence in the future.

In the same month of March, individual physicians from Ireland, India, Lithuania, Japan, France, Lebanon, the US, and Egypt specializing in gastrointestinal medicine, arthroplasty, respiratory diseases, gynecology, cardiology, pediatrics, and psychiatry, among others, also traveled to Sharjah to offer their services at the Emirate's hospitals.

The list of visiting specialists along with the details of their medical credentials and work experience are periodically announced by MOHAP, so that citizens and residents can make appointments in advance.

The Visiting Consultants initiative has by-and-large saved patients the trouble of traveling abroad to seek treatment. Meanwhile, it has also enabled UAE-based doctors to enrich their knowledge and skills without having to attend on-the-job training courses or short-term residency programs in other countries.

Professional communication and practice-based learning have always been at the heart of the philosophy of medical education. Thanks to the exchange program, doctors across the UAE, including in Sharjah, are currently working side by side with their peers from developing and developed nations, and this will be an enriching experience for the country's human resources in the area of healthcare.

This program is intended to be a milestone in the country's steps toward achieving the objectives specified in the UAE's National Health Strategy 2021 and the ambitious UAE Centennial 2071 project, two strategic plans the ultimate objective of which is eradicating diseases and keeping the nation healthy.

The Visiting Consultants Program may not have singlehandedly achieved the aforementioned objectives, but it is safe to say that it has saved some lives over the past few years, as it has given many patients in critical conditions a chance to be treated by world-class specialists considered to be at the top of their fields. According to MOHAP, the feedback from both the visiting doctors and local patients has been largely positive thus far.