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Three key strategies to overcome healthcare staffing issues in UAE clinics

Three key strategies to overcome healthcare staffing issues in UAE clinics

A combination of cultural factors, competition and an oversaturated market presents multiple problems for providers

More and more clinics are opening across the UAE, and the demand for healthcare professionals to staff them is also rising. Abu Dhabi alone needs 1,700 new doctors and 2,900 new nurses each year.

All of which results in competition for the best doctors, and difficulties in retention as staff chase better-paid roles. The problem is compounded by oversaturation, with the number of clinics and hospitals outstripping demand.

Relative good health is another issue, ironically. The UAE has a youthful population compared to much of the West, with the average age of locals and expats being around 30. The client pool is also 65 per cent male, and men tend to consume less healthcare than women.

Cultural factors

Clinics are defined by local demographics. Doctors trained in the West tend to work in clinics catering largely for a western client base. Consultation fees and medical staff salaries are higher in such clinics, with the knock-on effect of higher retention rates.

Doctors trained in the UAE are most commonly employed in mid-market areas, while Asian doctors predominate at the lower end of the market. With salaries here relatively low, staff retention can be a problem.

In other words, across the region there is a huge disparity in salaries and fees. So when it comes to staffing, one size does not fit all.

How to hire and retain the right UAE healthcare staff

The combination of cultural factors, competition and an oversaturated market presents multiple problems. There are three ways of tackling these issues.

• First, increase retention of the staff you already have. Improving your employee value proposition and hiring people who are well-aligned with your clinic’s ethos are effective ways of boosting retention.

• Second, invest in technology that lightens the load, reduces staffing pressures and gives patients what they want.

• Third, recruit home-grown and/or international talent relevant to the client base you are aiming for.

So how can you put these steps into practice?

1. Boost staff retention

Avoid loss of time and money by making retention your number one priority.

The UAE relies heavily on international healthcare professionals. In fact, it’s estimated that more than three-quarters of our medical staff come from outside the region. However, many expatriate medical workers view the UAE as a stepping stone into the West, rather than as a home in itself.

This means that staff turnover is high, as competition for skilled health workers increases. With this in mind, the best way to prevent losing key staff is to focus on making your business a place where career objectives are fulfilled, rather than a stopping-off place before the next career move.

Doctors are generally attracted by the status of the role, clear career growth plans and financial remuneration. You need to view your top doctors as a micro-brand – unique selling points that attract customers. Doctors who are happy in their posts become a magnet for staff retention throughout the clinic or hospital.

You can retain staff for longer by making their employment packages as attractive as possible. You could also involve key staff in decision-making, and seek employee feedback on the benefits they value the most – and then deliver them.

Research has shown that after pay, doctors working in the UAE consider ongoing training and education a top priority. Many overseas medical professionals are frustrated by barriers to career progression in their home countries, and offering this could help you stand out from the competition.

2. Embrace technology to boost procedure

Support administrative and practical tasks by employing Artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology.

AI is already helping some of the UAE’s major health facilities to function more efficiently. Robot pharmacists are speeding up the prescription collection process at Dubai’s Rashid Hospital, while AI is being used to diagnose diabetic eye disease at the Dubai Diabetes Centre.

The latest technology can be an attractive feature for staff, but forever upgrading to the latest tech is not a decision to be taken lightly. If you buy every new piece of expensive kit, the clinic will never make money.

When investing in new equipment or digital capabilities, you need to cherry-pick those that will actually boost business. The goal is to bring in new patients, empower staff, increase efficiency, and reduce costs – not to be a showcase of tech just for the sake of it.

3. Recruit employees that reflect your client base

Identify your customers’ needs, and set your brand to match this.

As a rule of thumb, your staff’s backgrounds should reflect the backgrounds of the patients you aim to attract.

For example, if you are targeting high earners of European origin, you will need to create the environment that they expect. Hiring excellent reception staff with great communication skills is vital. They are a key part of your CRM strategy.

If your clinic is treating a largely local population, aligning it with the region’s medical schools and nursing colleges could open up a new pool of home-grown talent as they progress in their careers.

Survival of the fittest

There is no shortage of skilled medical professionals in the UAE. However, top staff are often head-hunted by rivals or tempted away by the offer of better packages. Most clinics are struggling because there are simply too many competitors.

The answer is to select staff who believe in your goals and CRM strategy, and who answer to the needs of the local demographic. Demonstrate to them that they are highly valued, and they will want to stay.

Mark Adams is chairman of The Healthcare Network

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