Saudi Arabia draws in Malaysian nurses with opportunity to grow

Saudi Arabia draws in Malaysian nurses with opportunity to grow
Malaysian nurse Bridget Henriette Fernando, left, poses for a photo with her colleagues at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 2021. (Photo courtesy: Bridget Henriette Fernando)
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Updated 03 January 2023

Saudi Arabia draws in Malaysian nurses with opportunity to grow

Saudi Arabia draws in Malaysian nurses with opportunity to grow
  • Medical workers from Malaysia began to join the Saudi healthcare market in the 1980s
  • Nurses are attracted not only by packages but also by proximity of Islam’s holiest sites

KUALA LUMPUR: When Mohammed Amran Azizan decided to leave Malaysia and work in Saudi Arabia as a nurse, it was a leap of faith for him. Now, six years later, he sees the decision not only as career progression but also as an investment for his future.

While traditionally the most popular destinations for Malaysian nurses are those where English is the official language — like the UK, Singapore, Canada and the US — Azizan is among thousands of those who have made the Kingdom their second home.

He had initially applied to work in Singapore, but his prospective employer’s demand for him to know Mandarin cemented his decision to try his luck in Saudi Arabia, where he found employment in one of the most advanced centers in the Middle East: Prince Sultan Military Medical City in Riyadh.

“After my first year in the Kingdom, I fell in love with working here,” Azizan told Arab News.

“There are so many opportunities to further study. Salaries are tax-free and there’s a better opportunity for promotion.”

Azizan’s wife also works as a nurse, but in Makkah.

On their honeymoon, they explored the Kingdom in an experience that further sealed their decision to stay.

“When Saudis welcome a guest, they treat them like one of their family members,” Azizan said. “No one has ever treated me like this in a foreign country.”

Cultural comfort for Malaysians, whose country is also a Muslim-majority one, and the possibility to grow and learn are what appeal most to health professionals from the Southeast Asian nation.

“I didn’t experience any cultural shock going to Saudi because it is almost the same as Malaysia,” said Bridget Henriette Fernando, a senior midwife who used to work in King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh — one of the most comprehensive and highly advanced healthcare medical cities in Saudi Arabia.

She came back home during the pandemic but will be returning to the Kingdom in two months.

“They are very helpful because they know you are coming from afar,” she said.

Nurses from Malaysia began to join the Saudi healthcare market in the 1980s, attracted by competitive packages, work flexibility, advanced medical infrastructure and, for some, also the proximity to Islam’s holiest sites.

“Muslim nurses, they love it there, especially if they can work in Makkah and Madinah,” Malayan Nurses Union President Nor Hayati Abdul Rashid told Arab News.

About 20 percent of Malaysian nurses working abroad choose the Middle East. Rashid said they are quite welcome there as disciplined and experienced employees, as at home they have to undergo rigorous, multidisciplinary training. Every nurse is licensed by the Malaysian Nursing Board. Their certificates must be renewed annually.

“They are knowledgeable and skilled in their subject matter and can even teach the doctors,” she said.

But it is abroad where they can gain more experience.

“Nurses are given a bigger responsibility instead of playing the role of handmaiden to doctors,” said Irene Ng, who for the past eight years has been serving as a critical care nurse at Prince Sultan Cardiac Center in Riyadh.

When she arrived in Saudi Arabia, she was surprised that her workplace was not merely a hospital but a network of clinics.

“It is not a medical center but a medical city,” she said. “The place where I work here is a cardiac center, the whole building specializes in cardiac care, from cardiac medical to cardiac surgical, from the ward to the critical unit.”

And despite her busy schedule and 12-hour shifts, she manages to frequently fly back home as her compensation includes enough annual leave.

“I have more time at home to rest,” Ng told Arab News.

“My mom said she sees me more frequently compared to when I was working in Kuala Lumpur.”