Nursing is one of the most honorable jobs a person may decide to pursue, and the Saudi girl who decides to be a nurse is brave, no doubt about it. Not only does she choose to embark on a tough scientific journey, she is willingly accepting the challenges of breaking through many barriers in a male dominated society.
There are few jobs similar to nursing in which technicality and softheartedness intersect. Nurses are known to have this distinct passion to help heal the sick, after all, there is a reason they are called the angels of mercy. It is their calling to look after us in our weakest moments, and our duty to protect them against mistreatment and ignorance, and to provide them with a safe, professional, hassle-free environment.
Before talking about these problems, let us go through some nursing history in Saudi Arabia.
The first known Saudi female nurse, according to many resources, was Lutfiyyah Al Khateeb, who received her diploma in 1941 from Cairo, Egypt. I cannot imagine the kind of difficulties she had to endure back then.
What is impressive is that she was not only a pioneer, but also expended a lot of effort lobbying for the establishment of nursing schools for girls, back in the late 50’s.
Her efforts paid off and two nursing training programs were established in Jeddah and Riyadh in 1961; note that the first nursing training programs ever established in Saudi Arabia was in Riyadh in 1958, and it was only open for males. I believe Saudi female nurses should be grateful for this Al Khateeb’s efforts in making it possible for them to pursue a career in nursing.
Now back to reality, although we have come a long way since the sixties and there are many governmental and private nursing schools, working conditions are still difficult. Most of these difficulties are not related to the nursing job itself, but mostly revolve around the society’s perception of nursing.
First and foremost, there is the problem of trust.
Saudi female nurses are less trusted in comparison to their Asian counterparts. On one hand, this problem could be traced to the society’s distrust of the level of nursing education in the country, which leads most of Saudis to question the competency of Saudi nurses. On the other hand, there is distrust in the Saudi females’ ability to meet the challenges of such a demanding career.
You could be hearing something like “Saudi females belong at home, to raise babies and look after their husbands,” or something like “Saudi girls are spoiled, what business do they have in becoming nurses!”
The other problem that nurses are facing is the problem of harassment, verbal or physical. This problem is not exclusive to nursing in Saudi Arabia; it is a wide-spread phenomenon that many associate with the nature of the job itself. A major part of a nurse’s job is communication. They are expected to deal with all types of patients, doctors and visitors, while maintaining a social and approachable personality.
They are required to smile and to be talkative most of the time, at least to radiate assurance in their surroundings. The problem is when these friendly and polite gestures are misinterpreted as signs of flirtation or, worse, as signs of being ‘easy.’ This problem intensifies in Saudi Arabia because of the nature of our society itself.
For instance, strict gender segregation in many ultra conservative parts of the country makes interaction with a female who is not family, let’s admit it, both scary and fascinating to many Saudis. In such an environment, misunderstandings are inevitable.
So what are the solutions? To put it succinctly: Strict rules and regulations. It is not only about having anti harassment policies in place, but by seriously enforcing them. These rules should protect a nurse from her employer, patients as well as visitors, and to provide her with a safe environment, open for development.
Then comes the point of strengthening the level of nursing education. All technically based education is falling way behind in Saudi Arabia — nursing is one of parts of it. People need to know more about the job itself, its ethics, and its importance in our lives.