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Dr. Valentina Giaccaglia (center, in the picture with the Italian Ambassador to the UAE HE Liborio Stellino and the Consul General in Dubai Valentina Setta) is an Italian general surgeon specialized in Proctology and Pelvic Floor Disease who has moved to the UAE to pursue her healthcare career and now practices in Dubai. Despite going through difficulties at the very beginning of her move she managed to find a medical job, start a successful practice and quickly achieved a large patient followership and reputation. We are sharing her success story for all other surgeons who are interested in making the move to the UAE.
Why did you choose to move away from your country in Europe and come to work in the UAE?
I chose to come to the UAE mainly because I was not satisfied of my hospital career back home. Substantive doctor jobs were hard to come across, and career progression was largely limited by older surgeons occupying most of the key positions. Dubai felt like the right choice, with opportunities for young and active physicians in many clinical areas.
How long have you lived here, and what were the main difficulties you encountered at the beginning?
I transferred to Dubai a little over one year ago. Completing my local professional licensing was the biggest challenge I had to overcome. Here in the UAE all physicians (with some exceptions for UK and USA licensed doctors) need to pass an exam to be able to practice their specialty. I wanted to get a DHA license (Dubai Health Authority), so I had to pass the licensing exam. The DHA exam is a computer-based test for those applying for a specialist license like myself, and an oral exam with a panel for those applying as consultants. Despite taking the test three times I was not able to pass it, mainly because the questions are ambiguous and the answers often confusing. This has been the most frustrating experience of my life, since I never failed an exam before. It made me feel really hopeless. (GulfSpecialists has now launched a new licensing service which can help professionals license faster in a cost-effective way, find out how HERE.)
Read here to learn more about the process for DHA licensing
How did you overcome this challenge?
In the end I learnt through a friend who was already working in the UAE that there were different licensing Authorities in the UAE which could process my licensing. The DHCA (Dubai HealthCare City Authority) for example allows specialists licensed in Europe to convert their license locally without having to take an exam. So I went through all the paperwork, I took a TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and I finally got my license. It is to note that the DHCA license only allows holders to practice within the Dubai Healthcare City, a free zone dedicated to healthcare establishments within Dubai.
How is practicing medicine different between the UAE and Europe?
There are actually lots of differences. First of all getting a job offer is a lot less based on scientific or academic curriculum, and in general it is not an exam-based application like most public hospitals require in Europe. Here hospitals mainly evaluate your previous professional experience before they offer you physician jobs, and for surgical specialties is very important to have a good logbook with lots of independent practice. There are no gender, religion or race biases. Most of the hospitals and clinics have the latest instrumentation and facilities, and it’s relatively easy to get new devices on board.
How about patient interaction?
From the point of view of patient interaction there are no major differences, except that privacy and confidentiality here are even a stronger “must” and need to be respected, especially when examining patients. People are culturally a lot less prone to expose their body and sharing sensitive information like their health status with others, so you have to approach this with great caution and really put the patients at ease.
What are you most proud of professionally since moving here?
In the first year since my arrival I was able to gain a wide patient base and lots of appreciation. This was thanks to hard work, and also because my specialty - surgery of the pelvic floor- was lacking specialists locally, and in particular female ones. I established the fist Female Pelvic Floor Center in the UAE in my hospital, a service delivered entirely by women for women, with a completely female team (surgeon, anesthesiologist, radiologist, dietician, nurses..), which is something I am particularly proud of.
I also organized an International Congress focused on Colorectal Surgery with participants from all over the world, live surgery, online broadcast of the sessions and much more. The event was a great success and we are thinking of repeating it next year.
What personal characteristics are most required for a healthcare professional to come work in the UAE?
Solid experience as an independent physician and very good written and spoken English. Arabic is a big plus.
What advice would you give to colleagues looking to come and work in the UAE?
To get the medical license first (or at least an approval), and only look for a job afterwards. Employers consider your application much more seriously if you are already licensed. Because licensing can be long and have an uncertain outcome, they rather invest in employing candidates who are ready to start working, than unlicensed ones.
Read our blog for more practical advice in finding healthcare jobs in the Gulf
Doctor Valentina Giaccaglia can be found online here: