Abu Dhabi, UAE: Even at the tender age of seven, Fayeza Saif had a passion for medicine, playing “doctor doctor” with her family.
The memory of whiling away hours with toy stethoscopes, kidney dishes, cotton swabs and syringes prompts the Emirati to burst into laughter.
“At that point we didn’t have these fancy shops but we had this Dh5 kit that was sold in groceries. I used to love buying those kits and playing with them,” recalled Dr Saif, 38, a mother of one.
It was not just a phase or fleeting form of entertainment, she eventually moved on from the toys to forge a career in medicine.
“I always wanted to be a doctor,” she said.
It was a goal her family encouraged – and a previously untrodden career path.
“The profession is looked at as something that’s very prestigious and also compassionate. We didn’t have any doctors in our family,” she said.
But Dr Saif has come a long way since those childhood games and is now a consultant in family medicine and clinical affairs director at Ambulatory Health Services, which is part of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company.
The desire to help people and try to alleviate some of their suffering was always her ambition, she said.
A particular need to spend plenty of time with her patients was also a factor when choosing which area of medicine to specialise in.
“One of the reasons I chose to be a family physician was I had more time to listen to patients and listen to their concerns and address their concerns, rather than just being the person who gives advice,” she said.
As opposed to a job in the fast-paced environment of the emergency room, the role enables Dr Saif to fully engage with patients, including hearing their ideas, concerns and expectations.
“Many patients may present with physical symptoms when in fact they have something psychological or something that’s causing that type of symptom,” she said.
Dr Saif became a consultant last year.
After an internship in Al Ain and Tawam hospitals, and residency in hospitals in Abu Dhabi, she now works from a clinic in Al Bateen and spends one day each week attending to patients.
Sometimes their experiences affect her emotionally.
“I do see depressed patients a lot and I see patients with many chronic diseases, which can affect the quality of life of patients,” Dr Saif said.
“We have to be empathetic with them but sometimes you end up getting affected by their condition. You feel sad for them – sometimes you cannot avoid feeling sad after the consultation.”
But the extensive training which doctors receive, in areas including how to break bad news, kicks in, as does stress management.
When not face-to-face with her patients, the doctor spends the rest of the week in an office at Ambulatory Health Services in the capital.
High up in the building, near Khalifa Park, Dr Saif works as the clinical affairs director, which involves looking at the guidelines on evidence-based medicine and making sure the doctors are implementing them.
“I always thought I would be a practising physician and then I got into this and I like it,” she said.
The role is satisfying because it allows the consultant to update her knowledge and get information from different specialities. It also combines well with her practical work, as she is able to see both perspectives.
The lofty location, near Al Bateen Airport, also provides a source of enjoyment.
“I have always been fascinated by planes,” she said, as one took to the skies outside.
When asked if medicine was her dream job, she burst out laughing, and said: “You can say that.”
Is the world of medicine one which she would like her daughter Mariam, 9, to enter?
“Yes, of course. I would encourage anyone to be a doctor,” she said.
But, importantly, does Mariam have her own toy medical kit? Yes, she does.
“She knows where my real stethoscope is, she goes and grabs it and listens to her heart and my heart,” Dr Saif said.
Perhaps this childhood game will also lead to a career as successful as her mum’s.
© The National