The creation of the Saudi PA program was done in collaboration with George Washington Medical Faculty Association, and the educational curriculum used was modeled after the American physician assistant program.
The program was offered to Saudi citizens serving in the military, who held the rank of lieutenant. They were required to be no older than 27 years and to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in applied science.
The program was offered as a masters degree program and military personnel with a background in health care who could speak English were the preferred candidates.
Most advanced educational programs in Saudi are in English even though the main language is Arabic, Ahmed explained. Many Saudis get their degrees abroad and therefore those seeking higher educational degrees speak English. Textbooks are often not available in Arabic, especially medical textbooks, and this is the other main reason the program is taught in English.
Although students are selected from the military pool of lieutenants, Ahmed said there is interest in recruiting from universities in Saudi Arabia. However, this will require approval from government agencies, and he is still waiting to hear if this can indeed be done.
The Saudi PA program is 28 months, and includes 16 months of didactic training with a four-month transitional period, where students are prepared for the rigors of the program.
Courses taught during the transitional period include English language skills, basic medical terminology, basic microbiology, and a class on the history of the PA profession. After students complete this part of the program, they then do clinical rotations for 12 months. The students must also do a masters research project to graduate.
The Saudi PA program utilizes problem-based learning models. Problem-based learning is an educational tool that promotes self-learning.. It focuses less on traditional passive lecture style teaching and more on case-based active participation. Problem based learning sessions start with a group discussing a medical case, identifying their learning needs, and then in a few days reporting back with answers to those questions .
This type of educational model is used in PA programs in the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa, and is also used in some PA programs in the United States. This teaching method is a wonderful way to create life-long learners, critical thinkers, and professionals who have an excellent understanding of how to access medical information.
Ahmed said problem-based learning is a good fit for Saudi Arabia, because Saudi’s do not have a culture of reading, so asking a student to read a chapter and take an exam is likely a less effective model than a problem-based learning session, where students discuss and learn in a group setting.
He believes the problem-based learning method helps students retain information better and said outcome exams demonstrate the method’s efficacy in educating students.
Although the current Saudi PA program is essentially rooted in emergency medicine and trauma, there is a growing interest in developing the PA profession for primary care as the country’s health-care needs evolve.