Medical School in Saudi Arabia

Today’s Medical Education Monday post is written by Faten (@splendidfull on Twitter), a 23-year old final year medical student in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. She loves painting and reading in her free-time, is interested in Pediatrics (me too!) and Ophthalmology (definitely NOT me too!) as areas to focus on for her future specialty, and keeps a neat little tumblr blog of all the interesting things she finds online. It still amazes me how well all of the students & doctors who have helped me out with this series can speak and write in English.It’s seriously impressive. Thanks for the great write-up, Faten!

I think the fact that Twitter can so easily connect us with the rest of the world is AWESOME!

Getting In
How old is one when they begin medical school?
You start right after high school, so 17-18 years old.
What exams does one have to take to get in?
Getting into any medical college in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) depends on multiple factors: high school GPA (the higher the better chance of getting in), scoring high in 2 exams and of course passing the interview. One of the two exams takes place during high school and the other after graduation from high school. The former tests the analytical thinking and general informations and the latter tests basic sciences and English.
Is there any required pre-requisite coursework?
Is it a competitive occupation?
Very! Thousands of high school graduates apply and compete for a limited number of seats each year.
What are you called at this stage of training?
Med Student

Being In

How long is it?
Six years leading to MBBS (Medical Bachelor and Bachelor of Surgery)
How are the years broken down?
Pre-Clinical Years – 3 and a half years.
The first year is actually a prep year, during which basic sciences like Biology, Chemistry and Physics plus English are taught. Based on the students GPA in that year, some universities divide the entry into med school, dentistry, nursing or health sciences. That’s not done in my university (, here you continue med school promptly. After the prep year comes Physiology, Anatomy, Histology, Biochemistry, Pathology, Microbiology, Immunology, Parasitology, Family and Community Medicine, Psychology, Forensics and Basic Clinical Skills.
Clinical Years – 2 and a half years.
During these years we take rounds in Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Psychiatry, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, ER, Ophthalmology, ENT, Orthopedics, Neurosurgery, Urology, Radiology, Anesthesia and Dermatology.
Describe your typical day.
Pre-Clinical Years: Attending lectures and labs in the university.
Clinical Years: It varies according to the specialty, but in general attending bedside clinical teaching, clinics and surgeries, having lectures and preparing tutorials. Some specialties mandate attending morning reports and rounds with the team. In my university the day usually starts at 8am and ends at 3pm.
If you choose a specialty, when do you have to decide by?
During the internship which is the 7th year, right after graduation.

Getting Out

What exams do you have to take?
Students must pass all the courses up until the sixth year, then there will be certifying exams. The words certifying exam can send the chills down a medical student’s spine, they are in medicine, surgery, OB-GYN and pediatrics. The clinical exams carry the biggest chunk/bulk of the marks.
Do most people graduate?
Fortunately enough, the majority are hard workers so yes, most of us graduate. I think the percentage of Saudis dropping out of med school is rather very small.
When are you finally considered a “doctor?”
Once a person gets the medical degree at the end of your 6th year one is called a doctor. 
Do you have additional training or do you start working immediately?
After graduating from med school, a year of internship is mandatory (which is divided into: 2-3 months in internal medicine, 2-3 months in surgery, 2 months in OB-GYN, 2 months in pediatrics,1 month in family and community medicine, and elective 1-2 months).
In order to register in one of the residency programs, interns must pass the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties (SCFHS) exam. It’s not a practice license exam, it only demonstrates that the intern meets the standards required by the SCFHS. It is a prometric/computer based, the contents are somewhat equivalent to the ones in USMLE part 2. The results of the SCFHS exam add up with the college GPA into the application of any specialty. Some of the competitive specialties, like the surgical ones, have another exam of their own. Those specialties exams involve a written part and an interview afterwards.
Getting accepted into the specialty isn’t the end of the story, you’ll have to get sponsored by a hospital to pay the specialty fees, or you can pay them yourself. Getting the sponsor is a contract, in which you agree on working for that hospital during and after the residency program and you get your residency fees paid and a monthly salary.
What’s the average debt for attendance?
Colleges belong to the Ministry of Higher Education and they’re totally free, in fact you are paid 1000 riyals (about $260) a month during your college years. There are couple of private medical and dentistry colleges, but their fees aren’t sky high and some students can get scholarships to get in. Public and private ones are equally strong and each has pros and cons. As mentioned earlier, the residency programs require payment, the fees range between 5,000 – 8,000 SR per year ($1,460 – $2,130), paid by the sponsored hospital or the residents themselves if they didn’t get accepted.
What are you called at this stage of training?
Once you get accepted into a program you’re a Resident Doctor.

Being Out

What’s the average salary?
It is difficult to estimate, it varies among hospitals, specialties, work hours and postgrad studies.
Can you switch specialties?
Yes. But you’ll do all the residency applications from the start.
What are you called at this stage of training?
When you’re done with your residency program and get the board you’re a Specialist.

Past Medical Education Monday Posts: