HIMSS22 in Riyadh: Solving the healthcare workforce crisis in the Middle East

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that there will be a global shortfall of a staggering 10 million healthcare workers by the year 2030. And the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is not immune to this shortfall, with the shortage apparently set to affect countries including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

In this closing keynote at the 2022 HIMSS Middle East Health Conference & Exhibition, speakers will discuss what can be done to stem the mass exodus of staff, as well as train, recruit, and retain the next generation of healthcare workers skilled to thrive amid the post-pandemic world’s rapid digital transformation.


In the GCC, the rapid development of smart medical cities and hospitals is evident. However, it can be argued that the construction and infrastructure is progressing much quicker than clinicians are graduating or completing training. There’s also the question of whether there are enough individuals entering into the healthcare workforce to begin with. For example, is local talent being invested in enough? And how heavily does the GCC rely on talent from overseas?

With ageing populations – and with the high burden of non-communicable diseases leading to the exponential rise in demand for clinicians – this workforce shortage can be described as a ticking retirement time bomb. Simply put, healthcare systems are haemorrhaging clinicians faster than governments can create strategies to train more personnel. 

Appearing in “Workforce Crisis: Creating the Next Generation of Digital Leaders” are Dr. Manal AlMalki of Jazan University in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Kalthoom Mohammad AlBlooshi of the Emirates Health Services, Prof. William Hersh from Oregon Health and Science University, Prof. Rachel Dunscombe of the NHS Digital Academy at Imperial College London, Dr. Osama El Hassan from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), Prof. Amr Jamal from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Mohammed Alhefzi of the Saudi Association for Health Informatics (SAHI), and finally, HIMSS International’s Bruce Steinberg.


A BMC Medical Education report cites that factors said to be contributing to the shortage of healthcare workers in the GCC include “shortages in certain medical disciplines, due to a lack of nationally-trained professionals,” as well as “a less developed educational system compared to other high income countries.”

It highlights the fact that GCC countries are heavily dependent on an expatriate healthcare workforce, which is “a problem exacerbated by high turnover.”

Examining what can be done to stem the mass exodus of staff, as well as train, recruit and retain the next generation of healthcare workers in the GCC and wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the session will include a virtual fireside chat between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, comparing approaches to building health informatics competencies frameworks.
With capacity building arguably being key, the role of technology in helping address staff burn-out, high turnover, and people shortages also shouldn’t be underestimated – which is another area set to be discussed during this session.


The DHA’s Dr. El Hassan, a specialist at the Health Informatics and Smart Health Department, and who has been described as an “impassioned advocate for workforce development for the younger population”, notably told Healthcare IT News in 2020: “We should start to embed clinical informatics and information competencies with medical schools’ curricula and provide certification programs for the current workforce that expedite upskilling and cross-skilling.”

It will be interesting to learn from Dr. El Hassan if progress has been made in this area within the past two years.


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