Overseas: Sunshine, Saudi style

Margo Byrne, a paediatric nurse working in Saudi Arabia reports on life in Riyadh

"You will not last six weeks" was a frequent comment when I told people I was going to work in Saudi Arabia. One and a half years later I am still here and still enjoying my time in Riyadh with no plans to leave!

Financial problems were what drove me to think about working in Saudi in the first place: a visa bill, a car loan and all the other expenses one has living in Dublin. I decided I would go to Saudi Arabia for one year in order to sort out these problems I could make lots of money and wouldn't be able to spend it or so I thought. When I heard of the benefits on offer I thought there had to be a catch tax-free salary, no accommodation expenses, swimming pool outside my door, no electric bills or medical expenses. I decided I would give it a go, after all I had nothing to loose.

After completing the necessary documentation, within a few weeks I was on my way with five other nurses who were going to work at the same hospital. As the flight touched down in Riyadh I could not help thinking what have I let myself in for? I had never worked outside Ireland and here I was in the Middle East in a culture I knew very little about.

However, my concerns soon faded into insignificance as the hospital had representatives from both nursing and public relations there to meet the flight. Right from the start we knew that there was a process in place to make our transition to this new culture as smooth as possible. One of the girls I travelled with turned out to be my new flatmate and all five of us are now firm friends.

The hospital where I work has a planned orientation every month where all new arrivals get a chance to meet and learn about hospital policies and the Arabic culture. All new nurses are assigned a preceptor and this makes the professional transition much easier. There are plenty of inservice opportunities on offer and a real emphasis on continuing education in nursing.

Professionally I have grown and developed since coming to work in Riyadh. I initially worked as a staff nurse on a paediatric surgical unit nursing children with complex congenital anomalies which I had never seen before even though I had worked in a tertiary care paediatric hospital for the previous six years. This job was extremely challenging and rewarding. Early last year I was promoted to the position of nurse clinician for paediatric surgery. My job now involves clinical education both on the unit and hospital wide. I work closely with the unit head nurse and paediatric education coordinator and I am really enjoying the experience. I am also undertaking the ENB 998 course through Distance Learning and intend commencing my degree in paediatrics during 2001.

Social life

Outside of work there is a lot to do in Riyadh, believe it or not! Riyadh itself is a shoppers paradise with several shopping centres which have high street shops. The local souks (markets) are still very popular especially when it comes to making gold or luxury carpet purchases.

Like anywhere else in the world, it is what you make of it. BBQs and eating out form a large part of the social scene. International cuisine and fast food are easily available. During winter we frequently go to horse or camel races. Camping, walking and scuba diving are popular with the energetic sort. The GAA is also quite active in Riyadh and there are ladies and men's football teams, both of which represent Riyadh in the inter gulf Gaelic tournaments held in Autumn and Spring.

Cultural restrictions

Of course there are restrictions in Saudi but we accept this fact and adjust to the laws of the country. Many women find it a bit of a nuisance not being able to drive but there are alternatives. The use of drugs and alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia. Women also have to wear an abaya, similar to an overcoat when out in public but this can be an advantage as there is no fear of being culturally inappropriate.

It is now nearly two years since my initial inquiries about travelling to Saudi Arabia. In this time I have had a wonderful personal and professional experience and I have made great friends from all over the world. My advice to anyone considering a position in Saudi is to follow that dream, come here with an open mind and good sense of humour. I certainly have no regrets about my decision.

Margo Byrne is a clinician in paediatric surgery at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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