I am one of the few female surgeons in Saudi Arabia. It was not an easy choice in a male-dominant culture. To start with, when I completed my MD degree, I chose to be a surgeon, but there was some resistance from my family. My mother especially was concerned because she was under the impression that male surgeons may not accept a female on their team, and she thought that I would not be able to get married. My dad was worried too, but at the same time he told me if I really loved surgery I should go for it. Thus, I decided to go for it! I applied for surgical residency programs in several hospitals. In one of the interviews I was told that everything looked good apart from being female. Several male surgeons commented about the inability of females to have emotional stability, especially if they get married and then get pregnant and have kids. However, by the end I was accepted to the general surgery residency programs of several hospitals.
During my residency some of the consultants were very cooperative and encouraging; some were tough, perhaps tougher than they were with male surgeons. Some of the tougher consultants were tough because they wanted to stress us out. They thought if we can take it, that means we will be able to complete the residency program, but if not then it is better for us to just change specialty. Some of the male surgeons treated me like the other male surgeons, I think because they had not dealt with a female surgeon before. I did not have a chance to have a mentor, or to work with a senior female surgeon. However, I worked hard during my residency to prove my ability to be an excellent, skillful and independent surgeon. By the end of each rotation, the consultants sat with me to inform me that they were impressed by my work, knowledge, patient care, and attitude. I felt satisfied about myself and it was worth it to work hard. I got married when I was in my 4th year of the residency program. I got pregnant when I was an R5. I sat for the final written exam for both Arab and Saudi boards during my last days of my first pregnancy, because if I did not, I would have had to wait for a whole year to take them. I then sat for the final clinical exam for both boards again just one week after my delivery.
I’m glad that I finished my residency program on time and I completed all the requirements to be a general surgeon, board certified for both Arabic and Saudi boards. In addition, I was honored to be selected for a scholarship by my hospital and my government to complete a fellowship in one of the North American countries. I received several acceptance letters; after reading about Dr. Herbert Chen, who was a Professor of Surgery at the University of Wisconsin at the time, I contacted him and was amazed by his quick response in spite of the time difference between the two countries. His responses reflected his experience as a leader, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to work with him. Prof. Chen helped me draw a career plan. We discussed my needs and expectations, and the many choices available to me. To be honest, I was initially focusing only on clinical work, but I realized that Prof. Chen had much more to teach; I ended up working with him for 5 years! I learned about clinical and basic research, and completed my master’s in Clinical Investigation and doctorate in higher education leadership. Moreover, I learned about team-work and mentorship, and its importance for a junior surgeon.
Importantly, I was exposed to several American surgical associations, including the AAS. I currently serve as an Assistant Professor and as a member of residency and research committees in my hospital. Thus, I am heavily involved in daily medical education, mentorship, coaching and research activities. As a junior faculty, being a member of the AAS provides me with an opportunity to learn from other academic surgeons and mentors, and to grow personally as a leader by contributing in different committees of the AAS. I believe that the AAS will help me to promote the education of our medical students, residents, and faculty, via its annual meeting, special programs/courses, and publications. In addition, and the AAS can provide us with an excellent opportunity to present our research in amazing venue. Furthermore, the AAS will help us to promote international collaboration, and increase our networking by developing international exchange programs, international courses, and through the AAS Visiting Professorship Awards.
I noticed that Americans do not know a lot about my country. Some of them think that we still ride on camels when traveling, and that women in Saudi Arabia cannot go to school. Women in SA cannot drive, and we still face a glass ceiling when it comes to leadership positions, but otherwise we have all the rights to study and work available to our male colleagues. There are no differences in salary or working hours between males and females, for example. Of course, there is a long way to go in regards to the rights of women in SA, and our government is working hard to help us. Change will take time, and by the end, the correct staff will exist. For example, on 2013 the Ministry of Health appointed the first female to the position of Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Health for Medical Services. In addition, Saudi females account for more than 20% of the Saudi Consultative Assembly nowadays. I hope that I have provided a good and reasonable picture of SA, especially female surgeons.
Following my experience in America, I am now working in SA as an Assistant Professor, and am trying my best to implement the things I have learned to serve our patients, residents, and fellows in a better way. As those who have been touched by strong mentors understand, Prof. Chen will be my mentor forever, and I am looking to keep in touch with all the professional surgeons I have encountered, not only in the USA, but around the word. I believe medicine has no boundaries, and the world is in need of global surgery. Therefore, I have retained my membership at the AAS, and am honored to be a member of the AAS Global Affairs Committee. Finally, it is my pleasure to connect with any American or global institution to start a clinical or research cooperation. All the students, residents, fellows and faculty are most welcome. Please feel free to contact me. To know more about my hospital, search for King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSH&RC), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. https://www.kfshrc.edu.sa/en/home.