Program development challenges
Although Saudi is a very wealthy nation, it is clearly facing many health-care challenges. It would seem that developing the PA profession and moving them into primary care would be an ideal solution.
But this solution is not without its own set of challenges. The first class of 15 PA students has graduated, five of whom are working as instructors in the PA program, but Ahmed told me about difficulties these practitioners experience obtaining licensing.
In Saudi Arabia every health-care professional must receive a licensing number that is issued by the Ministry of Health Specialists. The PA program was developed in the Ministry of Defense. As previously mentioned the Ministry of Defense is independent of the Ministry of Health, but all practicing providers must have a licensing number to practice in Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defense are currently working on this issue of licensure.
There are additional uncertainties about scope of practice for Saudi PAs. Ahmed told me the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense are working together to get a sense of how this new profession will fit into the health-care system before they expand it. Efforts are underway to educate the military hospitals and clinics about this new profession and define scope of practice.
Another challenge is that many students find the English language requirement very difficult. Developing program materials and the texts in Arabic could aid its expansion, as would increasing public awareness about the profession to make people more comfortable seeing a PA for their health-care needs, according to Ahmed.
Developing the PA profession in Saudi Arabia could help the needs posed by increasing incidence of diseases such as diabetes, childhood obesity, hypertension, renal disease, and health-care disparities, Ahmed said.
The need for prevention is well appreciated in Saudi Arabia. Health-care centers are the initial point of contact for residents and are well distributed throughout the kingdom with a focus on immunizations and maternal health care.
The health of Saudis has improved dramatically over the years, and part of this can be attributed to a health-care system grounded in primary care.
The government health-care system recognizes the importance of primary care, and it seems developing the physician assistant in primary care would align with their goals.
I am excited to see the progress Saudi Arabia will make in regards to this developing profession. Many countries around the world are facing the same transition from communicable disease to non-communicable disease trends, as we see world-wide obesity rates increase.
Physician assistants and their analogs (clinical officers, medical officers, nurse practitioners just to name a few) are a great solution to these emerging changes in world-wide health care needs. Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a very challenging period, but the development of the PA profession has the potential to have a huge impact on the health of their nation, and we can all learn from the experience.
Marie Meckel, PA-C, MPH, is a physician assistant who works in Western Massachusetts. She spent a year in South Africa at Walter Sisulu University, where she taught clinical associates. Marie has spent the last year interviewing PAs and NPs, their international equivalents, and American PAs and NPs working abroad.
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- Nondo H, Jebakumar A Z, Fernandez J. Journal of Physician Assistant Education. 2013 24(4)22-25.