Saudi Arabia and some other Arab countries have banned the century-old MS (Master of Surgery) and MD (Doctor of Medicine) postgraduate degree programmes, removing it from the highest-paid tier of medics in the Kingdom. This decision can reportedly affect hundreds of qualified medical practitioners who are jobless at the moment. Several are present in Saudi Arabia who have now been asked to leave or face deportation.

Rebuffing Pakistan’s MS/MD degree, the Saudi ministry of health claimed that the programme lacked a well-designed or structured training programme, a compulsory requirement to hire medics against pertinent positions.  After the Saudi move, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are also planning to initiate similar steps.

Several affected doctors were employed by a team of the Saudi health ministry back in 2016, when it organised interviews in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad after inviting applications online. According to one of the affected doctors the decision had caused him undue embarrassment, however, the same degree programme offered by India, Egypt, Sudan and Bangladesh was acceptable in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Copies of service termination letters of several doctors issued by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS) stated that “Your application for professional qualification has been rejected. The reason is that your master degree from Pakistan is not acceptable according to the SCFHS regulations.”

Some of the affected doctors and senior health officials in Pakistan criticised the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP) for damaging their medical career and repute, holding it accountable. A spokesperson for the Association of University Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan, Dr Asad Noor Mirza, said the decision was a major setback for the medical profession and was a disrespect towards medical practitioners of the country.

He claimed that CPSP delegations during their recent visits to Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states had given slanted facts about university programmes offered at leading Pakistani universities to maintain the monopoly of the CPSP-sponsored FCPS qualification. Noor said Pakistan will now suffer at the hands of falling foreign remittance with additional sufferings for its medics due to joblessness.

University of Health Sciences Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Javed Akram dismissed the claim of the Saudi ministry that the MS/MD programme was not a structured training qualification. “The MS/MD programme was started in 1914 and the first MS degree was awarded to G.B. Kapoor from Punjab University. The MS/MD degrees have been declared a five-year level-III research and clinical qualification by the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council,” he added.

Prof Akram said, “The MS and MD degrees are enriched with dynamic, congruent and structured curriculum comprising clinical and research component at par excellence of international standards designed by the World Federation of Medical Education.”

Secretary of the Specialised Healthcare and Medical Education Department, Punjab, Momin Agha, said the issue was discussed with provincial Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid and it was unanimously decided to hand over the matter to the medical education committee who will review the under-graduate and post-graduate degree programmes.

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