ABU DHABI // More efforts are needed to attract Emiratis to the nursing profession and change perceptions of it as low status and inappropriate for women, health workers say.
Amal Rawhi Al Abed, the charge nurse at Rashid Hospital's nursing education unit, told an audience at Abu Dhabi Medical Congress and Exhibition yesterday that she wanted her compatriots to focus on the career opportunities the field had to offer.
"Emirati nurses have the capabilities and motivation to be leaders, but they need support and guidance. We need to promote Emiratisation," she said, adding that the country had been late in giving nursing the promotion it deserved.
Less than 4 per cent of nurses in the UAE are Emirati, according to a 2010 study carried out by the Ministry of Health. By comparison, Bahrainis account for more than half of all nurses in their home country.
Cultural sensitivities are part of the problem, said Jane Griffiths, the director of nursing at Rashid Hospital in Dubai.
She said it was not uncommon for her to come across men who were concerned about their sisters, daughters, or wives pursuing a career in nursing.
"They need to understand how important and satisfying it is," she added.
"A lot of that is to do with changing the public and family image of nursing," said Mrs Griffiths.
Hind Younes, 25, has worked as a nurse at Rashid Hospital's male trauma unit for two years. Her father, once a patient at the hospital, suggested the profession to his daughter. She said having the support of the men in her family was a key factor in her career choice.
"He said there were no Emirati nurses, so why not? I had just finished high school so I thought I would go for it," she said.
But despite making the suggestion, her father was initially upset to learn her job required her to be in physical contact with patients - some of whom are male.
"As a nurse, this is part of my job," she said.
After explaining the situation to her family, Ms Younes continued to work in the trauma unit, but with added help from colleagues when dealing with certain patients.
Building up the Emirati workforce has been a long process, said Mrs Griffiths, who has supported various initiatives, including the Emirati Nurse Mentorship Programme offered at Rashid Hospital since 2007, which currently supports 11 participants.
"Eighty per cent of our patients are male, but 100 per cent of our Emirati nurses are female," she said, adding it was important to change perceptions. "You don't see the sex of the patient, you just see a patient. This is difficult for society to understand."