The rapid pace of development and improvements in living standards in Saudi Arabia has brought major changes in lifestyles, leading to an epidemiological transition. Over the last four decades, diseases of infection and deficiency have largely been replaced by non-communicable diseases. Today, non-communicable diseases are the greatest challenge to the health status of the population in Saudi Arabia. The leading causes of death are coronary artery disease, hypertension, cancer and diabetes mellitus. Neuropsychiatric problems, obesity, smoking and road traffic accidents further add to the burden of disease and significantly reduce the healthy years of life (WHO, 2007).
Non-communicable diseases cause a great deal of discomfort and disability to their victims. They also have an economic impact on the society that goes beyond increases in healthcare costs. Fortunately, public health interventions to promote healthy lifestyles are widely available, which are effective in reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases.
The concept of primary health care (PHC) avows that the people are the custodians of their own life and health, that they are themselves responsible for acquiring information and decide about the activities to be undertaken to ensure attainment of health. Many non-communicable diseases can be avoided if the caregivers understand their prevention mechanisms and how they work among individuals and communities. However, conventional medical education focuses mainly on the body’s organ systems and disease mechanisms, producing physicians who are disease-oriented and treatment-centered.
The principles of PHC form the basis for community-oriented medical education and problem-based learning. The Qassim University College of Medicine (QUCOM) has adopted the problem-based learning approach toward community-oriented medical education since its inception in 2001. QUCOM has an integrated curriculum emphasizing a patient-oriented rather than the disease-oriented approach to medical care and stresses the role of evidence and research in decision-making in clinical practice. QUCOM students are trained to use logic, knowledge and social empathy as primary tools for patient care. Right from their first year in College, medical students are exposed to real life clinical scenarios, PHC, research and community health sciences. Problem-based learning requires that they develop their own learning objectives and do their own search to find relevant information for understanding and solving the problem at hand. Through this process they also learn to work in teams and to take leadership roles. QUCOM provides a nurturing environment for students and a professional boost for faculty – yet creates unique opportunities for creative thinking, experimentation renewal. Its graduates are competent and compassionate community-oriented physicians, lifelong learners and skilled researchers.