Dr. Saleh Fares: Breaking Ground in Dubai

Published on February 20, 2013
On the heals of the first Global Network Conference on Emergency Medicine, Dr. Saleh Fares, founding president of the Emirate Society of Emergency Medicine, explains what’s next for EM in the UAE.

EPI: Tell us a little bit about your path to emergency medicine. Why did you become an emergency physician?

DR. SALEH FARES: During medical school, I was bothered by several devastating stories of people losing their lives in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to the lack of adequate emergency services. This made me seriously consider EM as a career, especially since it was a new specialty in the region. One of my teachers, Dr. Nabil Al Ansari, a Bahraini Board certified emergency physician, highly encouraged me to apply for residency program in Canada. I was lucky to be accepted at McGill University, the first EM program in Canada. Following my EM Board, and being the first Emirati EP, I realized the huge deficit in prehospital care, not only in UAE, but in the region as a whole. I decided to do an EMS fellowship in Toronto, Canada’s largest EMS system, and then did a second fellowship in Disaster Medicine. I was honored to be Harvard’s first Disaster Medicine Fellow in 2009. Currently I am enrolled in a part-time MPH-DrPH program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health focusing on Health Care Management and Policy, with an aim to be able to move emergency medicine forward in the UAE and the region.

EPI: What is the current state of emergency medicine in the UAE?

SF: Healthcare in the UAE has undergone rapid development since its formation in early 1970s. The transition from ‘Accident and Emergency’ (A&E) staffed by non-EPs to emergency departments (EDs) occurred as recently as the 2000s, with western board certified emergency physicians establishing emergency medicine in their respective departments. Sheikh Khalifa Hospital in Abu Dhabi and Rashid Hospital Trauma Center in Dubai were two EDs that had significantly benefited emergency medicine as a specialty by providing state-of the art care, which was not available at other facilities then. Training programs started then, coinciding with the growth of Arab Board Certification in EM. Currently three residency programs in EM are being offered. Emergency medical services (EMS) in UAE is largely organized and run by the police departments of the respective Emirates (states), with increasing participation from health authorities.

EPI: What is on the horizon for emergency medicine in the UAE?

SF: As expected in a rapidly growing country, there are lots of things going on. Emergency departments and trauma centers are being established and expanded in public hospitals throughout UAE. EM trained physicians are increasing in UAE; a fourth EM training program is anticipated to start in 2013 and there are plans to start a critical care fellowship. A trauma care system for Abu Dhabi with plans to extend it to the whole of UAE over the next decade is currently being established and lead by our group. UAE has taken the lead in disaster and emergency management in the region, with the 3rd Crisis and Emergency Management Conference hosted by National Crisis and Emergency Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. One of the world’s largest disaster management facilities called “Tawazun Disaster Management City,” is being built in Abu Dhabi and is envisioned to be a unique city, with multi-agency training for emergency, crisis and disaster management for all types of natural or man-made disasters, with the medical aspect of it being led by EPs.

EPI: How did the Emirate society come about? What was it like forming a brand new EM society?

SF: With several projects going on, it was necessary to establish a “formal” EM body, under which several projects, initiatives and activities can be launched. We felt that it will put EM on the map, and so a group of emergency physicians have taken major steps in establishing the Emirates Society for Emergency Medicine (ESEM), which will be officially launched in late 2012. We started collaborating with international partners and look forward to having an active EM society in UAE.

EPI: What are the key challenges faced by the Emirate Society of EM, as it gets off the ground?

SF: Like any new society, getting the buy-in from busy EPs locally is a major challenge. Funding is another expected challenge but we are optimistic that with time, we will be able to sustain ESEM through memberships and sponsorships.

EPI: Are there any unique clinical challenges faced by emergency physicians in the UAE, or in the Middle East?

SF: Until recently, most EDs in the UAE were staffed with expatriate medically or surgically trained physicians, with EM trained physicians serving as supervisors or consultants in larger well established EDs and trauma centers. There is a shortage of EM trained physicians, and changing the mindset of non-EM trained practitioners in EDs to diagnose, stabilize and treat the complicated cases will require time. This might be aggravated further in the future by EM trained residents who may decide to leave the UAE to finish their training and live outside the country. The need to sustain ED capabilities and mission in the face of a rapidly growing population, declining resources, and financial restraints poses challenges.

EPI: What are the unique social challenges faced by emergency physicians in the UAE, or in the Middle East?

SF: UAE is a very multi-ethnic country, due to its large expatriate population; it is a melting pot of different cultures and races. Dealing with patients from different backgrounds can be challenging at times (eg. language barrier and sociocultural norms) but it is interesting and exciting to serve in such a system. UAE has the second largest economy in the region, and is a major financial and tourism destination. It is a modern cosmopolitan country which still has its own unique culture and old world charm.

From the July 2012 issue of Emergency Physicians International

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