Doctors' salaries to jump as competition heats up

Industry calls for curbs on staff poaching in fight to attract specialists to UAE hospitals
Doctors' salaries to jump as competition heats up
The GCC states are largely reliant on expat nurses and doctors
By Elizabeth Broomhall
Tue 29 Nov 2011 11:28 AM

Doctors in the UAE could see their salaries jump in the coming months as competition for specialised staff among hospitals in the Gulf state heats up, industry experts said.

The rise of lifestyle diseases combined with a wave of hospital launches and moves to upgrade the UAE’s healthcare system is likely to spark a bidding war for senior physicians, said Dr Azad Moopen, owner of DM Healthcare, which operates five hospitals and more than 35 clinics.

“The availability of doctors, especially in some of the specialities has been a problem,” he said.

“We hire many doctors from subcontinent countries like India and Pakistan and some Arab countries like Sudan, but it has become very competitive. Their salaries have gone up significantly and many of them are not interested to relocate.’

Partly to blame is the increase in wage in their home countries, he said, which has deterred many physicians from relocating to the Gulf in search of better salaries.  

“There used to be a huge difference between what people could earn there and what they could make here, it [encouraged] them to relocate. But now many of them have got excellent options so it is becoming more and more difficult to get good doctors.”

The GCC states are largely reliant on expatriate nurses and doctors to keep their healthcare systems afloat. The UAE has a particular shortage of Emirati nurses, and has warned in the past that it may struggle to sustain its healthcare infrastructure without more national participation.

The shortage of expert staff has triggered a trend of ‘poaching’ in the Gulf state, said BR Shetty, owner of NMC Healthcare, who has called for curbs on job-hopping between hospitals.

 “Governments should ban hospitals [from taking doctors from other hospitals],” he told Arabian Business. “Salaries of doctors have gone up already. They will continue to go up unless the government restricts the transfers from private to private.”

Existing wages for doctors range from AED60,000 to AED100,000 per month for specialist consultants, and from AED16,000 to AED60,000 for GPs, with Abu Dhabi paying better rates than Dubai for staff, a spokesperson for recruitment consultancy Hays said.

To make it viable for a doctor to move jobs, they would need a salary increase of 13 percent, the spokesperson said, adding that a shortage of talent makes this feasible for specialist physicians.

According to the Dubai Department of Health and Medical Services (DOMS) website, the GCC has just two physicians per 1,000 population compared with a ratio of 2.6 in the US and 3.2 in Europe.

A recent report by the Abu Dhabi health authority (HAAD) said around 15 percent of doctors left their positions in the UAE in 2010, while approximately 13 percent of nurses are thought to quit their jobs every year.

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The problem has been intensified by a long wait between doctors accepting job offers and obtaining their license to work in the UAE, recruiters said.

“Each of the [UAE] licensing bodies have got a reputation for taking a certain amount of time - it can take up to six months to get a doctor on board from the moment he signs an offer letter,” said Melissa Kostler, a healthcare specialist at Hays. “Some organisations struggle especially if they’re looking for a doctor with a certain background, such as a German speaker. The timelines are very heavy.”

Shetty said the time required to license staff should be reduced to boost the availability of staff for hospitals, with a fast-track procedure for doctors from certain universities.

“We get the best doctors from the best English cities,” he said. “The UAE should recognise certain universities, and say that from that university we can take doctors.”

Abu Dhabi’s healthcare body, HAAD, this year amended the requirements for entry-level doctors to allow physicians with two years’ experience to obtain a license to work. Previously, only physicians with three years’ work experience were entitled to apply to work in the emirate.

Healthcare assistants with certain bachelor’s degrees and also now only required to train as interns for one year under the new system, rather than two years as before.

The authority said the changes were an important step towards filling staff shortages in hospitals, and enticing more Emiratis to work in the sector.

Other industry experts point to poor pay grades as the key reason why some hospitals in the UAE struggle to attract qualified staff.  

“I think there is a shortage if you’re paying AED20,000 [per month]. If you pay a doctor that after that amount of training you will lose those [them],” said David Hadley, CEO of Emirates Healthcare Holdings Limited (EHL), the company behind Dubai’s Welcare and City Hospitals.

“Doctors salaries will go up, because the doctors will demand a better wage or they won’t come here.”

The UAE boasts one of the highest levels of type 2 diabetes and obesity in the world. The Gulf state ranks only behind the Pacific island of Nauru for diabetes incidence, and is closely followed by Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

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