Human Resources

Attracting and keeping talented staff in the Middle East healthcare sector

The Gulf region’s healthcare sector has changed rapidly in the past decade, mostly in response to the needs of the growing local and expatriate populations. These changes have required the healthcare sector to come up with better care solutions for treating a wide range of demographics. They have also forced governments to acknowledge that the sector needs more efficient funding models and processes.

Against this backdrop, countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are seeking to establish regional centers of healthcare excellence that are affiliated with leading international providers. Doha, for example, recently invested in Hamad Medical City before the Asia Games and it is spending more ahead of the FIFA World Cup, positioning Qatar as a world-class healthcare provider.

However, behind costly new facilities and medical equipment, the one element that is perhaps the most important to achieving positive patient outcomes is the most often overlooked – attracting, retaining, and developing talent. With the growing global demand for highly qualified health practitioners, Gulf countries are not only competing for this talent among themselves, but with the rest of the world.

Higher awareness

Diabetes and heart disease regularly rank among the most serious health conditions in the region. Coronary artery disease accounts for 45% of all deaths in the Middle East, according to Yale University researchers. Several governments in the region are launching large-scale initiatives to increase the public’s awareness with more education and early warning detection systems. The focus so far has been not only on treatment, but also on prevention. Healthcare demand grows as populations – and awareness – increase. While hospital systems can seek to create world-class facilities, developing and retaining a workforce to match is often more challenging.


Healthcare providers in the Middle East, like others around the world, find it difficult to create a pipeline of talent to fill key specialist, medical, nursing, or administrative positions.

Attracting talent not only requires human resources, but also financial ones. The cost of employing expatriates is significant. Expatriation costs, housing, school fees and other associated costs can often double the first year annual salary of a new hire. Given these costs, employers must determine whether the individual is likely the right fit and can deliver high patient satisfaction – before they hire.

Organisations often consider the tangible elements of a person’s experience, his or her qualifications, and previous employment, but often overlook the softer elements of “cultural fit” within an organisation. A hospital is no different from any other workplace; some people will fit into an environment and some will not. Gallup has discovered that if organisations understand their top and bottom performers, their talents, and how they are “wired” and integrate what they know into the recruitment and selection of healthcare professionals, they can improve organisational performance.

Merging traditional selection techniques with a more humanistic approach not only can assist healthcare systems in getting the right people into the right roles, but also enhance outcomes being strived for. In this context, it is important to consider the alignment of a potential candidate with the overall culture of the organisation. Such an approach limits the chance of a miscast or a poor investment.

Restrictive tenure

Healthcare employers are always looking for ways to retain their employees because the hiring process is so lengthy and expensive. Although the practice is not as widely used as it once was, some healthcare systems still impose restrictive tenure contracts on their workforce to make them stay.

Healthcare employers usually do this when they feel helpless while trying to simultaneously inspire loyalty and manage a budget for existing and new hires. Losing a new or existing hire can have disastrous financial implications. Research estimates a loss of between 30% and 176% of the annual salary for every open position, a dangerous “budget reducing” cost to absorb.

Although securing the workforce in the long term makes financial sense, it may do more harm than good. Gallup workplace studies show these types of restrictions ultimately damage performance and engagement. Restrictive tenure practices breed disengagement, and disengaged team members can damage an organisation’s reputation and hurt it financially. Such a phenomenon is tied to a lack of trust in situations where the healthcare provider is seeking to minimise its risk but instead creates a major sense of instability for the employee. Regional Gallup studies identify trust and stability as two fundamental needs that followers have of their leaders (the others being hope and compassion).

Engagement: Patients at risk

The patient is the responsibility of every member of the healthcare workforce from the most junior nurse to the most senior cardiologist. This responsibility does not just mean making the experience “patient centric”, but also ensuring the patient’s safety, recovery, and overall wellbeing. Aside from the systems and procedures in place to aid this outcome, healthcare providers should invest in understanding team and patient engagement within a healthcare unit.

A global Gallup report on engagement and wellbeing in the workplace highlighted that Middle East and North African respondents either fell into the not engaged (56%) or actively disengaged (29%) category (Fig. 1). Ultimately, the disengaged and actively disengaged members of the workforce are sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work, acting out their unhappiness and undermining what engaged co-workers have accomplished.

These statistics are concerning because neglecting employee engagement in a healthcare situation could potentially put patients at risk. Patient outcomes and safety are the No. 1 concern for every healthcare system worldwide. Healthcare providers spend millions implementing systems and controls in line with international standards to reduce patient safety incidents. However, some of the world’s leading healthcare operators are also focusing on the engagement of healthcare professionals. Gallup research (Fig. 2) suggests that an engaged healthcare professional can assist to reduce patient safety incidents by up to 41% and increase overall productivity by 18%.


Because employee engagement can influence patient outcomes, it is important to redefine these outcomes. Healthcare systems strive for patient centricity, but that outcome is ultimately based on an employee’s want and need to deliver the patient centricity promised to the patient.

Healthcare organisations need to engage their employees and their patients. The healthcare professional’s workplace affects the healthcare professional’s engagement which in turn affects the patient’s wellbeing. The desire for patient centricity must therefore start with the professional. Healthcare organisations need to ask themselves whether they are hiring individuals who believe in the mission and purpose of their facility and whether the facility helps every individual realise this mission by providing learning and growth opportunities.

The next level

While the private sector is more involved now in the Gulf’s healthcare sector, patient sovereignty and choice are stronger than they have ever been. Regulatory monitoring and implementation of international standards are also stronger. It is clear that these two trends will continue as governments look for greater models of economic efficiency.

Healthcare providers must look beyond location, facilities, and services when striving for the best possible patient outcomes. Focusing softer metrics of employee and patient engagement with the harder metrics commonly used to ensure operational efficiency will ultimately provide a more meaningful experience, lead to greater sustainability, growth and profit, resulting in a win-win for both the community and the provider.

Healthcare challenges are constantly evolving in an emerging and developing market such as the Middle East. It is essential for every healthcare leader to place attracting, retaining, and engaging talent at the top of their agendas, as ultimately people make a patient’s experience and drive the most successful patient outcomes.

 Date of upload: 20th Jun 2012


                                               Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved.