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Where are you from? Hong Kong is my hometown, while I have been in Australia since 2006.
Can you give us a snapshot of your nursing career thus far? I completed by Bachelor of Nursing in University of Wollongong. I have been working as a registered nurse for ten years in Wollongong, Sydney Metro, NSW Rural, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi – UAE.
When & where did you travel to the Middle East? I spent a year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2014-2015 & 2.5 years in Abu Dhabi, UAE in 2016-2019.
When and why did you decide it was time to take your nursing career abroad? I love travelling. Hong Kong is an international city that is so easy to travel around, but unless I work there for a year and take the exams I am unable to practice nursing there. So I went elsewhere. I was inspired by my colleagues that were working in the Middle East. It allowed me to have a stable income, with travel at my fingertips. Within 4-8 hours I can visit Africa and Europe! If I continued to work in Australia, to make the long haul flight and flight tickets worth the money, I have to take a month or two off to see those countries.
After you finished your one year in Saudi, you moved to Abu Dhabi to work in the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi? How was the culture & lifestyle of Abu Dhabi? Saudi was definitely a culture shock but the community there was so welcoming that it was a great way to experience something different. Abu Dhabi was a lot more western & an incredible mix of foreign cultures. Being a Muslim country there is still an Islamic theme but it’s very multicultural with everyone’s cultures being celebrated. The UAE is often where expats across the Middle East go to for a long weekend and a bit of a break.
How did the Cleveland Clinic help you transition into your new life in the UAE? What was the accommodation like? CCAD conducts a holistic orientation for everyone. They have hospital tour, city tour, and general orientation for all new comers. They also have specialised orientations for doctors, nurses, allied health, porters and even kitchen staff. CCAD has a high standard of practice. All nurses have to pass American competencies prior to working on the ward (but they provide intensive courses to help you pass the exam if you have failed the first one). They also had a lot of skills to be accredited once or annually. But, despite this, I never got stressed as the educators are always helpful and happy to assist.
The accommodation? My friends who came to visit me, they described it as a 5 star hotel. I was once living on level 56, with the clouds on the same level outside the windows. Prior to this, I was living on a 10-storey high building, which is 30mins drive/bus ride away from the hospital. They have different accommodations that suit different people with different preferences. And now, they even provide “opt-out” options for people to rent their own places with housing allowances.
What were the highlights of your time in the UAE? Should I stop mentioning the ease of travel? Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports are now the popular transiting airports people travelling from the east to the west or vice versa. Other than that, travel within the UAE is another kind of experience. I could be camping in the desert but an hour later I can reach the world tallest building with the biggest shopping mall in the Middle East.
I don’t tend to visit religious place while travelling, but the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is something that you should never miss out on. It’s absolutely stunning, but I do often wonder “how do they keep it so pristine & white after so many years?”
What were the challenges of working in the UAE and how did you manage these? The challenges would be around working in the multicultural environment. We, the Aussie or Kiwi nurse, always claim that we’re used to working in the multi-cultural environment, but I would say it’s different to what we experiencing the Middle East. In Aus/NZ we have an established medical/healthcare system, people from overseas have to adapt to our way and cope with the challenges of that themselves. In the Middle East, they are relying on overseas medical professionals bringing their medical knowledge into the country to improve and build up their system. With health professionals coming in from all over the world, bringing in their own ideas and knowledges, trying to fit into a Middle Eastern Culture that dates back to Bedouin times, cultural shock and clashes are inevitable.
How did you find nursing in another country? Nursing in another country can be challenging. Especially, when the practices in the country/facility are different from what I’m used to in Australia. Some practices, I found were more beneficial and evidence based so I would follow them. Other times, this was not the case. But I never hesitated to speak up when I had concerns or I thought there was a better way to get things done.
What career opportunities or professional development did you find there? When I was in Saudi, I was lucky to be nominated into the paediatric course for a month and become a paediatric nurse there. There were also Unit Based Councils in every unit where nurses could advocate for themselves and on behalf of the patients to improve the treatment and relationship as a whole.
When I was in Abu Dhabi, I had the opportunity to be trained for peri-transplants for both liver and kidney surgeries and also for bariatric surgery.
Both hospitals always had good elective courses that I could take on my own desire, like wound care, peritoneal dialysis etc.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of travelling to the Middle East? No matter where we live or work, there are always challenges. Working in the Middle East itself can be a shocking one, but if you go in with an open mind and learn to just chill from time to time, it will allow you to see beyond the culture shock and appreciate the many benefits the region has to offer.
Grace Hung: Saudi Arabia 2014-2015, Abu Dhabi 2016 -2019.
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