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 Table of Contents 
Year : 2009  |  Volume : 16  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 67-69  

Challenges to Saudi medical education in the third millennium

Department of Internal Medicine, College of Medicine, King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia

Date of Web Publication16-Jun-2012

Correspondence Address:
Fahad A Al-Muhanna
Department of Internal Medicine, King Fahad Hospital of the University, P.O. Box 40085, Al-Khobar 31952
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 23012193

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Medical education began in Saudi Arabia in 1969 when King Saud University, the first medical school was established. Since then globalization has brought numerous challenges. In this paper, we review the status of medical education and its expected future projects.

Keywords: Saudi medical education, challenges, curriculum, internship, healthcare system.

How to cite this article:
Al-Muhanna FA. Challenges to Saudi medical education in the third millennium. J Fam Community Med 2009;16:67-9

How to cite this URL:
Al-Muhanna FA. Challenges to Saudi medical education in the third millennium. J Fam Community Med [serial online] 2009 [cited 2021 Dec 2];16:67-9. Available from:

The aim of medical education is to produce physicians with appropriate competencies to cater to the health needs of the community. The requirements of medical education therefore, vary according to the needs of the community where the physicians practice. [1] The approach and quality of that education have to be evaluated in terms of culture, the expectations and the needs of the different communities. [2],[3],[4],[5]

Though medical schools, together with their affiliated teaching and training hospitals and health centers constitute the core of medical education, [6] in order to maximize the use of health resources other health institutions and private hospitals may also be used for teaching and training. [7] The conduct of research, provision of health care besides training of graduate competent physician form part of the remit of medical schools. Consequently, the highest standard of medical education is expected of any medical institution. [8],[9]

The objective of medical education is to train young physicians to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to respond to the health needs of their community. They should strive to achieve this health objectives with care and compassion. [10] Unfortunately, in a continually changing health care environment, there is concern that medical students are inadequately prepared to provide the best health care to the community they will serve. [11]

The global challenge to medical education emanates from the World Health Organization's goal of "Health for all by year 2000" in the 1978 Declaration of Alma-Ata. [12] By the beginning of the third millennium, medical education should have produced clinically competent physician with the ability to provide health care to individuals and to the community. [1] The adoption of this approach to health care and medical education triggered a worldwide educational and political movement, supported by many governments and regional medical education bodies, toward an educational reform for all health professionals. [13] The first medical school in Saudi Arabia was established in 1969 by the Ministry of Education and named King Saud University. Thereafter, various medical schools have been established in different regions of KSA. [14] However, what is lacking is a standardized structure by which these medical colleges may base and determine the format of education and the skills the doctors they train require to be able to cope with the demands of their professional careers. [15],[16],[17]

Unfortunate also is the fact that a majority of these medical colleges have no clear vision. Consequently, the objectives of the colleges are either obscure or unknown to most of the staff and the students. [18],[19] Moreover, the curricula of these colleges are mere replications of medical curricula in the west, with little or no adaptation that recognize health needs of the community. [20] Besides there is no uniformity of curricula and standards of the medical education across these colleges. [21] In order to find out the reason for the absence of uniformity of standards in our medical colleges, the challenges in medical education in different parts of the world have been identified. [22]

Firstly, in many countries, there seems to be a gap between what people want and what the contemporary medical education system has to offer. [23] The need for primary health care was recognized at Alma Alta in 1978. Primary health care suddenly invaded a well established system of medical education. The sense of proportion was lost and departments of primary health care, which suddenly became part of every medical college, rather than try to work in concert with other departments of medical colleges that took on a dictatorial position, demanding that primary health care should be taught to all levels of medical students for a maximum period of time. [24]

Secondly, medical colleges whose ambitions were to produce the best and safest doctors, were confronted with the need to produce the greatest number of doctors as quickly as possible, to serve the rising populations of the world, in order to meet the WHO target of "health for all by year 2000". The result was the loss of quality for the sake of quantity, especially in developing countries where health care was the least developed. [24]

There was a lack of proportion and balance between PHC and clinical medical care education. Material that was irrelevant to the community continued to be taught, standards were compromised, and some colleges even reduced the training period necessary to produce safe doctors. [22]

Another problem in medical education in Saudi Arabia relates to the first year after qualification or the internship year. The first year as a doctor, or internship, is the most stressful time of the physicians professional life, or the weakest link in the entire chain of physician training. [25] Recommendations to reduce the stress of internship have focused on improving working conditions and providing support systems for junior doctors. [26] The internship year is an important part of undergraduate education and training for the medical students, but the internship experience varies a great deal. Graduates need to be well prepared for clinical practice, so appropriately designed internship programs are necessary to provide a balance between their performance at work and their education and training so that the practical experience provides not simply confidence but also competence. [27] Many medical undergraduate curricula provide inadequate preparation for internship, as evidenced by the high incidence of emotional distress of junior doctors and their reported dissatisfaction with undergraduate training. [27]

Another challenge in medical education in Saudi Arabia is the problem of recruitment and retention of expertise such as academics, educationalists and professionals in the institutions. These highly qualified professionals manage and direct medical education programs. The reason for the problems is the salaries, compensation, benefits that make no distinction between the different roles of these doctors such as teaching, research, professional and community service they provide. [28] The role of academic medicine as the focus and the most suitable environment for training has not yet been recognized by the government, especially Ministry of Finance. Student selection is still based on an old process of selection in spite of new standardized test run by National Center for Assessment in Higher Education (Qiyas).

In summary,

There are many challenges to medical education in Saudi Arabia in the 21 st century. These challenges can easily be addressed if decision makers use the expertise of medical education providers to look into the current status of medical education in order to identify, determine and properly plan for the future needs of the society.

   Acknowledgment Top

I would like to thank many people who helped me in the research of this article. In particular, Dr. Marwan Al-Wazzeh, Ms. Shatha Al-Habeeb, Ms. Katherine Alvarado and Mr. Ramesh Kumar.

   References Top

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2.Azim MA, Urban D, Sayeeda R. Trends in medical education: challenges and directions for need-based reforms of medical training in South-East Asia. Indian Journal of Medical Sciences. 2004; 58(9): 369 - 80.   Back to cited text no. 2
3.Colditz GA. Medical education meeting community needs. Medical education. 1983: 17(5): 291-5.   Back to cited text no. 3
4.Haeri A, Hemmati P, Yaman H. What kind of curriculum can better address community needs? Problems arisen by Hypothetical-Deductive Reasoning. Journal of Medical Systems. 2007; 31(3): 173-7.   Back to cited text no. 4
5.Karle H, Lindgren S. Challenges in World Health and Medical Education. World Federation of Medical Educators. Copenhagen, Denmark, 2003.   Back to cited text no. 5
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7.Organization WH. Towards unity for health. Geneva, Switzerland 2000.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Schuwirth L, Vleuten C. Challenges for educationalists. Medical education. BMJ 2006; 333 544-6.   Back to cited text no. 8
9.WojtezakA, Schwarz M. Minimum essential requirements and standards in Medical Education. Institute for International Medical Education, New York, 2007.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Muller S. Physician for Twenty-first century: The GPEP report at the panel on general professional education of the physician and college preparation for medicine. Association of American Medical College. 1984;Washington DC:USA.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Dean SJ, Barratt AL, Hendry GD, Lyon PM. Preparedness for hospital practice. Medical Journal of Australia. 2003; 178:163-6.   Back to cited text no. 11
12.World Health Organization. Doctors for Health: A WHO global strategy for changing medical education and medical practice for health for all. Geneva, 1996.   Back to cited text no. 12
13.Nooman GR. Critical review of medical education in the GCC countries. 1 st GCC Conference of faculties of medicine, Kuwait, 1999.   Back to cited text no. 13
14.Harrell GT. Medical Education in Saudi Arabia. Annals of Internal Medicine. 1976; 85(5): 677-8.   Back to cited text no. 14
15.Rolfe I, Pearson S, Sanson R, Ringland C. Identifying medical school learning needs: a survey of Australian Interns. Education for Health. 2000; 14(3): 395-404.   Back to cited text no. 15
16.Rolfe E, Pearson SA, Fisher RW, Ringland C, Bayley S, Hart A, Kelly S. Which common clinical conditions should medical students be able to manage by graduation? A perspective from Australian interns. Medical Teacher. 2002; 24(1): 16-22.   Back to cited text no. 16
17.Hill J, Rolfe IE, Pearson S, Heathcote A. Do junior doctors feel they are prepared for hospital practice? A study of graduates from traditional and non-traditional medical schools. Medical Education. 1998; 32; 19-24.   Back to cited text no. 17
18.Point: Global standards in medical education - what are the objectives? Professor THJ ten Cate, Blackwell Science Ltd. Medical Education. 2002; 36: 602-5.   Back to cited text no. 18
19.Al Muhanna FA, Subbaroa V. Standards in Medical Education and GCC Countries. J Fam Community Med 2003; 10(1): 15-6.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.Wojtezak A, Schwarz M. Minimum essential requirements and standards in medical education. Institute for International Medical Education, New York, 2007.   Back to cited text no. 20
21.Lowry S. Medical Education. British Medical Journal Publishing Group. 1993; Tavistock Square:London.  Back to cited text no. 21
22.Hamad, B. Community-oriented medical education revisited. Annals of Community Oriented. 1991; 4: 129-38.   Back to cited text no. 22
23.Organization WH. Towards unity for health. Geneva, Switzerland, 2000.   Back to cited text no. 23
24.World Health Organization. Doctors for Health: A WHO global strategy for changing medical education and medical practice for health for all. Geneva, 1996.   Back to cited text no. 24
25.Hill J, Rolfe IE, Pearson S, Healthcote A. Do junior doctors feel they are prepared for hospital practice? A study of graduates from traditional and non-traditional medical schools. Medical Education. 1998; 32: 19-24.   Back to cited text no. 25
26.Rolfe G, Atherton, Pearson, Kay, Fardell. A system for maintaining the educational and training standards of junior doctors. Medical Education. 1998; 32(4): 426-31.   Back to cited text no. 26
27.Hannon FB. A national medical needs' assessment of interns and the development of an intern education and training program. Medical Education. 2000; 34: 275-84.   Back to cited text no. 27
28.Al-Muhanna FA. The motives for Saudis faculty to join non-university work. Bahrain Medical Bulletin.2001;23(3):127-34.  Back to cited text no. 28


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