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Behind the Veil, Life in Saudi Arabia

Advice & Tips

I had always known I wanted to be a Nurse!

As a child I spent a few stints in hospital and despite feeling ill or in pain, I followed the Nurses on their rounds, fascinated by the Pumps, Needles (I know…born to be a Nurse right??!!) and everything else going on around me. The other thing I’ve always known is that I wanted to travel! …………and travel I did!!!

Nursing may be one of the best professions in the world to travel with and I can definitely attest to that. I have worked as a Nurse in Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England, Portugal, Abu Dhabi and of course…Saudi Arabia.

Saudi was on my radar for a very long time, maybe even before I started my Nurse training. As luck would have it, one of my managers had spent quite a few years working as a Nurse in Saudi and was able to give me a great insight into life in Saudi before I decided to take the plunge. A quick phone call to CCM Recruitment and 3 months later I was on a flight to the Magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!

So why Saudi?

Saudi intrigued me! The Arabian Peninsula holds a sort of mystery and excitement like no place else and I wanted to explore it! (Salary paid tax free also has a nice ring to it, let’s be honest!)

And why choose King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre?

I attended a workshop at CCM Recruitment’s office in Dublin and the presentation given by the Director of Recruitment from the King Faisal bowled me over. KFSHRC is a tertiary medical and research facility in the capital city if Riyadh. It is the national referral centre for Oncology, Organ Transplantation, Cardiovascular Disease and Genetic Diseases.

During my interview I was offered the opportunity for further training and development in a new specialty, Paediatrics, due to my previous experience working with children with complex care needs.

The benefits package offered along with the additional training was just too good to turn down. My decision to accept was a “No Brainer”

So what’s it really like to work there?

Working in Saudi is so different to anywhere I’ve ever worked. I worked alongside people from over 50 different countries. One of my favourite things that we used to do on the ward was pot luck dinners to welcome new staff or for Masalamas (going away parties). Everyone would bring a meal and usually there would be a vast array of Pancit from the Philippines, Curry from India, Irish stew from Ireland (that was my dish) to name just a few.

Workwise, the basic nursing principles are the same. However, the model used is based on the American system so accreditation with JCI and Magnet are a major focus. I got some great experience working on the Unit Based Council monitoring KPIs and Quality initiatives.

Orientation is in depth and incorporates everything from IT systems to up skilling in the High Tech Simulation Lab. You are mentored until you have completed all competencies and are comfortable with taking your own patient load.

Nurse/Patient ratio is 1:3 on days and 1:4 on nights. A BIG difference to the workload I was used to at home!

What about the language barrier?

You don’t have to speak Arabic to work at the King Faisal. It is an English speaking hospital which means all notes, medications, signs etc. are in English and all Medical Personnel communicate through English. If a patient or a relative doesn’t speak English there is always someone around to help translate. I picked up quite a bit of Arabic during my two years there and could happily hold a conversation in basic Arabic. Just another string to add to my bow!

What challenges did you face?

The Saudi culture is very different to my own so I had to learn a lot about their beliefs and customs. A little education goes a long way and spending a little time learning about their culture helped me to be more patient and understanding in my daily practice and life.

Not being allowed to drive was initially a minor inconvenience but the hospital provide an excellent taxi service for its employees and once I had established a good rapport with one of the drivers, I could rely him to collect me at any time of the day or night so I was never stuck.

So what about a social life?

I could honestly say I had a better social life in Saudi than I do now back here in Ireland. Life in Saudi is what you make it and I made the most of every opportunity to get out and about and meet people from every walk of life.

I played Gaelic Football, attended events at embassies and other compounds, went for spectacular walks through the desert, spent time by the pool on my days off, hit a few balls at the driving range around the corner from the hospital and with 54 days annual leave every year, I globe trotted to my heart’s content!

There are some fantastic restaurants in Riyadh with a choice of any type of cuisine you fancy. Arabic, Lebanese, Turkish, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Sushi, American plus there is even a Chocolate Café that does the most amazing CHOCOLATE PIZZA!!!

Do you have to cover your face?

This is a major misconception people have of Saudi Arabia. Ex-pat women do not have to cover their faces. When you go out to the malls or wherever, you are expected to wear an Abaya (long black dress like garment) and I always carried a scarf in my bag in case I was asked to cover my hair (which happened very rarely). I was in their country after all so it was important to respect their culture.

Let’s clear up a few other misconceptions while we’re at it:

  1. Yes ex-pat women can go out alone

  2. No you don’t need a male chaperone

  3. Yes you can keep your passport (

    except when your visa is being renewed which takes 3-5 days)

What ways has living and working in Saudi Arabia enriched your life?

  • I made some great friends that I’ll have for life
  • I gained professional experience that has opened doors for me in ways that I never thought possible
  • I got to travel to exotic destinations such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Petra…………..
  • Living and working with so many different nationalities was a fantastic experience
  • The amazing memories and stories!

What are the top 5 highlights of your time in Saudi?

  1. Playing Football with Naomh Alee GAA Club

  2. Travelling to the Farzan Islands off the coast of Saudi Arabia

  3. Snorkelling in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah

  4. Hiking through the Red Sands

  5. Saudi Breakfast on a Friday morning at work with our Saudi colleagues

Moving to Saudi Arabia was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I made some great memories with some amazing people. Both my personal and professional life have taken a turn for the better as a result of working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

It truly is the “Magic Kingdom”

If you are a nurse and the thought of sampling the exotic delights of the Saudi Arabia is something, which interests you submit your CV today. If career progression, travel opportunities, or earning some extra cash is top of your agenda, King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre can offer all of this and more.

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