An invitation, earlier this month to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to be an external examiner in the clinical examination of the Arab Board for Medical Specialization in the field of Family Medicine, proved to be an exciting and enlightening experience. The Arab Board was founded in 1978 by the Council of Arab Health Ministers, within the Arab League with the aim of standardizing training and assessment of residents across the region. Training is however the responsibility of the local board or organization responsible for accreditation and training in each country across the Arab World from Libya, Egypt and Sudan in Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula, to the Middle East. The clinical examinations were held in Jeddah, Dubai, and Bahrain. Prof. Michael Kidd, from Australia was the external examiner in Bahrain and Dr. Salmon Rawaf, from the UK, joined the team in Dubai.
My hosts in Jeddah on the Red Sea were the local Members of the Arab Board and Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine. Their hospitality was of course superb and I am still suffering from a massive overdose of shell fish, cuscus and Um Ali (Mother of Ali), a delicious local version of bread pudding!
The candidates in Jeddah were residents from across Saudi Arabia. What amazed me was that all candidates were examined in English, and the majority were able to communicate with aplomb in this second language not only when discussing clinical issues, but also when the more complicated nuances of the language were required to deal with ethical and philosophical issues. The standard of knowledge and expertise of the candidates was in the main excellent and, without hesitation and with total confidence, I would, have handed over the care of my own shellfish and Um Ali induced myocardial infarct to a number of the candidates! What also struck me, as it has in other parts of the world, was the universality and commonality of the content and scope of the family medicine curriculum with that across the world, be it in New Zealand, South Africa, UK, Malaysia or Canada.
Another exciting element of the training and assessment was the seamless integration of community/ public health elements in the curriculum for family physicians. Funding of training programmes in Family Medicine is a major inhibitor in many countries around the world. Traditional specialist disciplines often have first grab at any health education budget. In Jeddah, the training occurs in the Joint Family and Community Medicine Programme. It is a junction in two senses. Not only is there considerable integration of the two community-based disciplines in a single training entity, but the Programme which has been functional for over a decade, has developed out of a true collaboration using the combined resources of the Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine, The National Guard, and the National Departments of Health and Defense. The resultant programme conducted in the grounds of the National Guard is of a high academic and clinical standard.