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Riyadh retracts decision to withdraw trainee doctors from Canada

Saudi medical staff leave the emergency department at a hospital in the center of the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 8, 2014 [Fayez Nuredine / AFP/ Getty images]
Saudi medical staff leave the emergency department at a hospital in the center of the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 8, 2014 [Fayez Nuredine / AFP/ Getty images]

Saudi Arabia has exempted its trainee doctors in Canada from the deadline the kingdom set for more than 12,000 students to return home after severing diplomatic relations with Ottawa.

According to an e-mail sent to 1,053 doctors on Monday from the Saudi Ministry of Education, it has been decided that they will remain their jobs "waiting for an alternative arrangement," said Andrew Padmos, Chief Executive Officer at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Padmos welcomed the decision due to the urgent need for teaching hospitals.

The decision came after the authorities extended the doctors' right to remain in Canada for an additional three weeks period, ending on 22 September instead of 31 August, which is the date set by Saudi Arabia for all its students to return home. Such resolution was made by the Saudi government after being outraged by Canada's call for the release of human rights activists in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia also froze new business deals with Canada, expelled the Canadian ambassador and stopped importing Canadian grain, in addition to blocking air traffic between the two countries.

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Padmos was quoted by The Globe and Mail as saying: "The Saudi trainee doctors are staying in Canada until further notice."

According to the Saudi cultural attaché in the Kingdom's embassy in Canada, the Saudi medical trainees constitute the largest group of expatriate doctors trained on Canadian medical programs.

Paul-Emile Cloutier, CEO of HealthCareCAN, the national representative of hospitals across Canada, said that it would take several years to find an alternative place for Saudi residents and fellow doctors to be trained in, which means that they will end up staying in Canada.

Cloutier considers "this development in the Kingdom's position as beneficial for Saudi medical graduates and Canadian hospitals that depend on their services."

He noted that Canada had had a program for decades whereby the Kingdom pays vast sums to provide training for Saudi medical graduates in Canadian teaching hospitals. During the training, the doctors acquire valuable experience and provide care for patients in Canada.

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Cloutier warned that the forced evacuation of Saudi trainee doctors from Canada could put their Careers and the hospitals they used to serve in at risk. Canadian hospitals will be compelled to search for immediate ways to bridge the gaps that the trainees' sudden departure caused.

He concluded: "Hospitals with many Saudi medical trainees will continue operating in the same way."

Saudi Arabia ranks fourth in the list of the top 20 countries having students studying in Canada, after China, India and South Korea, despite a drop in the number of its expatriate students last year.

According to Dr Jasser Al-Harbash, Deputy Minister of Education for Scholarship, the number of Saudi citizens in Canada exceeds 12,000, including 7,000 expatriate students. They are divided between 5,000 enrolled in BA programs and 2,000 others postgraduates and enrolled in fellowship programs, in addition to MA and PhD researchers in various disciplines.

 

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