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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: The first Emirati nurse dedicated her life to helping others

Atheja Ali Busaibah had to overcome gender prejudice to help wounded soldiers and civilians in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War

Ms Atheja Ali Busaibah speaks during a Dubai Police event to recoginse Emirati women's role.
Ms Atheja Ali Busaibah speaks during a Dubai Police event to recoginse Emirati women's role.

Missing arms and legs were some of the most common injuries that Ms Atheja Ali Busaibah, the first Emirati nurse, would see among soldiers when she worked at Qasr El Eyni hospital in Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

She also had to overcome gender prejudice to help the wounded soldiers and civilians.

"In the past, social and patriarchal attitudes made it harder for women to join the workforce. Mothers who were looking for wives for their sons were looking at me differently. It was considered unacceptable to marry a working woman," said Ms Busaibah.

“There is no easy path to success. I sacrificed being a mother, a wife and having a family of my own.

“I sacrificed it all for my ambition. But I have no regrets whatsoever.”

Ms Busaibah was trained in Kuwait Hospital in Dubai in 1962. She became the first Emirati nurse in 1969, when the country was yet to be officially founded and was known as the Trucial States.

“I did not study nursing at college. I was trained by doctors and nurses in the Kuwait Hospital," she said.

Ms Busaibah said her parents supported her career path. “My parents were educated and religious. They supported women’s role in the workforce.” Yet there is no easy path to success, especially for a woman working in the 1970s.

Old archive image of Atheja Ali Busaibah, the first female Emirati nurse. Anna Nielsen / The National
Old archive image of Atheja Ali Busaibah, the first female Emirati nurse. Anna Nielsen / The National

Much has improved in the last years, as we have great leaders. We are not only government and people, we are a big family,” said Ms Busaibah, who is now retired.

But she stuck it out, and devoted her life to nursing. The 67-year-old even broke a bone in car accident while serving in Egypt, where she accompanied Sultan Ahmed Al Mulla, then Minister of Health.

“Treating the injured in a war zone demands passion, determination and the ability to work with diverse cultures,” she said.

“Travelling to Egypt was very challenging. We took a flight from Dubai to Beirut, travelled to Benghazi in Libya by road and then to Egypt. The driver was not using the vehicle’s lights at all, fearing that they would be spotted by the enemy and be targeted by air strikes,” she said, while flicking through old photo albums.

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Ms Busaibah, who was only 22-years-old at the time, handled a small operation room at Qasir Al Aini Hospital in Cairo, saving lives.

“I helped in treating major wounds and cuts, such as those who lost their fingers and suffered from major injuries,” said Ms Busaibah.

But her work didn't finish when the war was over, and she also worked on many humanitarian initiatives.

“I dedicated my life to my country by looking after those who suffered during the war, collecting donations for Palestinians and establishing a blood bank at Kuwait hospital in Dubai,” said Ms Busaibah.

Ms Busaibah was assigned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, upon instructions by the Late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the ruler of Dubai at that time, to collect money from citizens of Dubai for the Palestinians to support them in their war.

“I went around people’s homes and collected money for the Palestinians,” she said.

The biog

Name: Atheja Ali Busaibah

Date of birth: 15 November, 1951

Favourite books: Ihsan Abdel Quddous books, such as “The Sun will Never Set”

Hobbies: Reading and writing poetry