Abu Dhabi, UAE: Medicine can use job sharing, extended maternity leave and flexible working hours to help retain the skills of women in the workforce, pioneering Emirati doctors said.
Speaking at the Emirates Society of Emergency Medicine Scientific Conference in Abu Dhabi, the experts, who included some of the first doctors in the country, said that women far outnumbered men in medical schools and are flying higher than their male counterparts in the profession.
However, women often face the challenge of working atypical hours and balancing personal life and responsibilities of motherhood, leading them to end their careers.
Dr Rafia Ghubash is the founder of the UAE Women’s Museum, a professor of psychiatry and a former president of Arabian Gulf University.
She said: “When you look at the statistics of the UAE University, you will see there are five female students [studying medicine] to one male student. This has been so from the start.
“Every year, there is a large number of female doctors graduating and just a few men. The only challenge is that when women doctors have children, they have more responsibilities and they disappear.”
Dr Ghubash discussed an initiative supported by Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, President of the Gender Balance Council, to have nurseries in every ministry and company. She said many organisations in Dubai now offer this service for working mothers and a discussion on extending the length of maternity leave is taking place in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Ayesha Almemari works at Mafraq Hospital and is the first Emirati physician to specialise in emergency medicine. She said 70 per cent of profession candidates are women, especially among Emiratis.
“Introducing flexible hours will definitely open the door for many women to stay in the workforce, and I definitely support that,” Dr Almemari said.
“Alternative routes are there, and women can still give the family priority and resume their careers after having a child. Children take priority, but you can always come back.”
She gave the example of her sisters. One is an engineer and, as she did not have the option of flexible hours, she changed her career path to set up a family focused art hub.
“My other sister had a young boy who was weak and ill. She gave up medicine for five years and, when he recovered, she went back,” Dr Almemari said.
Dr Stephanie Kayden, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School in the United States, said that working in emergency medicine was one of the most sought-after areas among postgraduates she knows.
“It’s a very popular choice for women. We have to be careful to make sure that we don’t take too many women because so many of them are highly qualified,” she said.
Dr Kayden advised women to speak up in meetings, be direct, self-promote and negotiate when communicating at the workplace.
Dr Nellie Boma, Al Rahba Hospital’s chief medical officer, said that in the eight years that she has worked in the UAE, she has seen a lot of women rise to leadership.
© The NationalDec 2015