As the provision of health care services in the Kingdom has continued to grow, one challenge facing the sector has been the increasing number of medical professionals required to staff facilities. This demand has been met in part by expatriate workers, but several local educational institutions also offer programmes to train Bahraini doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals. While space for practical training has to date represented the biggest barrier to increasing the supply of local doctors and nurses, the opening of King Hamad University Hospital (KHUH) in December 2011 will provide additional opportunities in this regard.

NURSING: Recognising a growing need for nurses, the Ministry of Health (MoH) established the College of Health Sciences (CHS) in 1976. Initially the college offered only an associate degree in nursing, but it later expanded to other areas such as public health and radiology. Over the years its programme offerings have changed, and today CHS awards a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as associate degrees in pharmacy, radiology, medical laboratory technology, dental hygiene and public health. Looking ahead, the institution would like to open a master’s degree in nursing, as well as more specialty nursing programmes, such as diabetic nursing, Dr Aneesa Al Sindi, the dean of CHS, told OBG.

As of January 2012, about 850 students were enrolled at CHS, a number that fluctuates based on the needs of the MoH, but as Dr Al Sindi pointed out, the real limiting factor is the country’s limited capacity for practical training. About 60-70% of course credits for students enrolled at CHS involve work in a clinical setting, primarily at Salmaniya Medical Complex but also at the MoH’s primary health care centres, the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital and some private hospitals.

PHYSICIANS: For many years, CHS was the only nursing school in the country, but this changed with the opening of the Bahrain campus of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), which has offered a bachelor’s degree in nursing since 2006. However, RCSI has been in Bahrain since 2004, when it launched its bachelor’s degree programme in medicine, which today has about 550 enrolees and typically takes five to six years to complete. There are at present two other medical colleges in Bahrain, located at Arabian Gulf University and AMA International University. Students who attend the three medical colleges do their clinical rotations at the country’s hospitals, both public and private. American Mission Hospital (AMH), for example, takes students from all three. According to Dr George Cheriyan, the CEO of AMH, there is not enough space in hospitals for students to do practical training.

One factor that may help in this regard is the recent opening of KHUH, according to Dr Sameer Al Otoom, the dean of medicine at RCSI. Students at RCSI will now be able to do their practical training at the new hospital, which is located adjacent to the college’s campus. In addition, the opening of KHUH will allow RCSI to offer post-graduate medical specialty training. Specifically, Al Otoom identified a new general surgery programme that will be run by KHUH to promote practical training by the hospital’s doctors at its facilities.

TAMKEEN: KHUH is likely to expand training opportunities in the health care sector in other ways as well. In September 2011, Tamkeen (Labour Fund), a semi-autonomous government agency that has a mandate to develop the local workforce, announced that it was entering into a partnership with KHUH to train and employ 117 Bahrainis as health care assistants at the hospital. Then, in January 2012 the agency announced that it had signed an agreement with KHUH to provide training opportunities for 92 nationals in a range of health care disciplines, including nursing, lab technicians, radiology and pharmacology. The students, who will first attend courses at CHS and RCSI, will ultimately be employed at KHUH. The programme will be rolled out over a five-year period and funded by Tamkeen, which is contributing BD1.47m ($3.9m) to the project. This initiative will not only provide more jobs for locals, it may also help to alleviate the shortage of medical professionals needed to staff the country’s hospitals.