With Dr. Kassim Omran: from "Arab Board" to "Saudi Board", Calamity of Bahraini Doctors after 2011 (1)

2021-03-25 - 7:02 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): Dr. Kassim Omran, who currently resides in the United States, considers the non-involvement of the newly graduated Bahraini doctors in specialty training a fatal blow, or at a minimum, very harmful to their career.

This is the reality faced by the new graduates, whom the government prevents from joining the training programs, and as a result they lose any opportunity to train and specialize. All they do is move from one clinic to another and from one hospital to the next just to build up their resumes, so that they are not considered non-practitioners. However, this is used as an excuse to stop their work permits, by the National Health Regulatory Authority (NHRA).

During the 1980s, former Health Minister Ali Fakhro set some standards for doctors to train abroad, with the help of hospital department heads, most of whom were Lebanese at the time. Many of the Bahrainis who are counted as loyalists to the regime could not pass these standards, so they resorted to the then Prime Minister to issue an order to send them abroad  at the expense of the Ministry of Health, despite the minister and his standards, which were applied only to others. This approach continues, in order to maintain a sectarian balance at a minimum, if not to make the regime loyalist doctors prevail in each department.

The new development that took place after 2011 is that the war of discrimination and abolition has become public in all aspects, in the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and the licensing authority as well. The decision today is that the Ministry of Health will only hire new doctors on vague criteria, but everyone knows that they are sectarian political criteria.

Since the era of Minister Ali Fakhro in the 1980s, there has been a training program for new doctors called Arab Board of Health Specializations (ABHS). Everyone who joins this program and passes it used to be considered automatically employed and over the years gets a promotion in other government institutions. However, after 2011, the program was suspended for a while and reintroduced, but with a radical change. The program now trains new doctors in cooperation with "Tamkeen" without the Ministry of Health being obliged to hire any of them after finishing their training. The recruitment of any of these doctors has become selective and subject to unknown criteria.

Moreover, the Ministry of Health's training program only accepts a very limited number of graduates each year, the natural result of this is: a surplus of unemployed and untrained doctors annually.

At the same time, a parallel training program was also launched for "Arab Board", a Saudi Board program, licensed by the Ministry of Health. However, its criteria for acceptance were also private and unclear, let alone it was funded by an unknown source.

If the "Arab Board" program, with its limited seats, is open to all, the "Saudi Board" program was closed and almost confidential. One of the doctors once said to me that when he applied for the "Saudi Board" program, none of the Shiite doctors knew anything about it, and the applicants were from the Sunni sect only, except for one Shiite doctor (who found out in some way) out of about 20 applicants.

Now the most important question is, do all newly graduated doctors experience the same difficulties? Is there a secret tunnel that leads to the employment of a group based on different standards? What is worse is that Sunni doctors have another special way of employment through the Defence Force Hospital (Military Hospital) and King Hamad Hospital, where they receive special care in training and specialization abroad without disruption and in early years. Many of these were university colleagues, but their career path in specialization was much shorter than ours.

These hospitals are the first and natural refuge for every Sunni doctor graduate, because they are the only ones who are allowed to work in, and therefore, you will not find a Sunni unemployed doctor.

The irony is that when these hospitals discover that one of these hired doctors is professionally unsuitable, and decide to dismiss, they transfer him to Al-Salmaniya Medical Complex. He then joins the Ministry of Health training program, while being an employee with all the privileges of employment, at a time his colleagues who are accepted through the same training program, according to the new criteria, are not employees, and their relationship with the Ministry of Health ends once the training program is terminated at a maximum of 4 years.

The result is that every year you find at least 400 Bahraini doctors (the majority of them Shiites) waiting for training or employment. Most of them are either at home or work in non-medical occupations, while a few of them work in hospitals or private clinics as cheap labor with low salaries of maximum 550 dinars, of which Tamkeen Fund pays 400 dinars. These hospitals can get rid of them at any time after the end of the support period.

In an attempt to evade responsibility for this calamity, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Health Mohammed bin Khalid Al Khalifa suggested that new unemployed (Shiite) doctors receive a 2-year training in private hospitals, which Dr. Kassim Omran describes as "very fast", in order to make them qualified enough to apply to a medical specialty. Omran confirms that the Ministry of Health needs new doctors and can embrace these graduates very easily, however, the authorities are preventing this on purpose.

"Is there anything worse than this war waged on Shiite doctors? The Ministry of Health does not employ them. Meanwhile, despite their need for them, the military hospital and King Hamad Hospital don't allow the employment of any of them, whether new graduates or even specialist doctors, without explanation or justification, while we find that these hospitals fill the vacancies with doctors of other nationalities. This has been an old policy in the military hospital since its establishment."

On the other hand, the military hospital and King Hamad Hospital hire the unemployed Sunni doctors and then transfer them to Al-Salmaniya to take over the remaining space that is supposedly still available to Shiite doctors and others.

"In the second half of the 1990s, a group of new doctors (mostly Shiites and a few of them from the Sunni sect) returned from Egypt to Bahrain and were hired in Al-Salmaniya. At that time, Abdulahy Al-Awadi was the head of the cardiology unit in the internal medicine department, he was only concerned in preventing any Shiite doctor (including me) from entering this department in any way, although the department was full of Indian doctors and there was no Bahraini doctor. Some Shiite doctors from this batch tried to join the department, but were rejected by Al-Awadi on the grounds that there was no vacancy."

"A few days later, these colleagues from Egypt (Shia and Sunni) met in a friendly session, and discussed the department they would choose to specialize in, so one of the doctors told them why don't you apply to the cardiology department, as Dr. Abdulhay Al-Awadi called me to offer me to join him because they need doctors."

Arabic Version