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Recruitment, Retention and Integration of Healthcare Professionals: Modernizing Medical Workforce Governance in the UAE


Issues of recruitment, retention, and integration of healthcare professionals in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), such as doctors and nurses, require attention,

as the majority of these healthcare professionals in the UAE are internationally trained graduates. Medical workforce governance and health workforce governance are topics that offer possible solutions for these issues at both the country and emirate levels. This begs the question, what factors would facilitate or hinder implementation of more streamlined and modernized health workforce governance in the UAE?

The streamlining and modernizing of health workforce governance is particularly important as the UAE is becoming an increasingly popular destination for medical tourism1 , but at the same time is committed to the World Health Organization Constitution that recognizes health as a basic right, rather than a commodity. This is to be realized through the achievement of universal access to affordable healthcare for all population groups in the citizenry (universal health coverage). The government offers a healthcare plan to Emirati citizens, and employers or sponsors are required to provide private health insurance to their employees and families2.

The dual priorities of healthcare in the UAE have lead to pronounced issues stemming from current practices in the recruitment, retention, and integration of healthcare professionals. To be more specific, the factors of maldistribution of healthcare professionals and the unequal adoption of unified licensing schemes, amongst others, are impacting the UAE’s ability to achieve universal health coverage as they are limiting the effectiveness of current recruitment, retention, and integration policies. In fact, a recent study3 noted that these factors are key intervention points for modernizing and streamlining medical workforce policies and processes that could help facilitate future improvement of health professional regulation in the UAE.

The 2018 study, conducted by a team of Australian and UAE based researchers, highlighted that the problem of health workforce maldistribution and licensing schemes is exacerbated by four types of health professional migration in the UAE. These are: The migration from low and middle-income countries such as India, Pakistan, and the Philippines to high- income countries such as the UAE; the migration of doctors within emirates from the public to the private sector, as they offer superior pay and working conditions, in the form of increased flexibility and responsiveness; the migration of doctors from more rural regions and emirates, such as the Northern Emirates, towards the larger urban regions of Dubai and Abu Dhabi; and the migration of doctors outward from the UAE to other Arab nations, Europe, North America, or Australasia.

In addition, recent unified licensing arrangements introduced in the UAE in 2014 represents improvement in the workforce mobility between the emirates, as medical practitioners and other health professionals are not required to take examinations again if they wish to work in another emirate. However, there are still questions about whether this streamlined licensing process is actually improving or exacerbating the problem of health workforce maldistribution.

To better understand the impact these factors have in facilitating or hindering the implementation of more streamlined and modernized health workforce governance in the UAE, the study recommends the following: first, government and private healthcare employers should conduct workforce surveillance, that is collect data on health professional recruitment, integration, and retention as a basis for improved policies and practices with the aim of employing the right professional at the right time, in the right place. The policy paper suggests that these migratory flows should be monitored in Ras Al Khaimah and in the UAE as a basis for ensuring evidence-informed policies and processes in the future. Second, regulators should collect evidence in order to monitor the impact of unified licensing in the UAE as a basis for further streamlining and modernization of medical regulation. Third, the policy of Emiritization calls for further research, wherein future research should be conducted to better understand Emirati and expatriate experience and views regarding Emiratization within the healthcare sector to mitigate unintended impacts and increase efficacy of the policy.

To learn more about the challenges of recruitment, retention, and integration of healthcare professionals, current healthcare regulatory policies and practices, and the modernization of medical workforce governance in Ras Al Khaimah, and the United Arab Emirates check out the the Al Qasimi Foundation’s open-access policy paper Streamlining and Modernization of Medical Workforce Governance: A Case Study of Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.


Ahmed, G. , Al Amiri, N. and Khan, W. (2018) ‘Outward Medical Tourism: A Case of UAE’. Theoretical Economics Letters, 8, pp. 1368-1390. doi: 10.4236/tel.2018.87088

Younies, H, Belal, B & Mustafa, ZY (2008), 'Ranking of priorities in employees reward and recognition schemes: from the perspective of UAE health care employees', International Journal of Health Planning and Management vol. 23, pp. 357-371.