With the springing up of more and more hospitals and health centers across the Kingdom, there has also been a huge demand for nursing staff, a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by foreigners. However, more and more young Saudi women are also becoming nurses, something that is leading to a new phenomenon.
“The number of young Saudi women joining nursing courses is on the rise. There are more than 5,000 Saudi female nurses in the Eastern Region alone. We have managed to achieve 50 percent Saudization in the government health sector,” said Sharifa Al-Zayed, director of the Nursing Department at the Health Affairs Directorate in the Eastern Region.
Many Saudi women have managed to succeed in this profession in spite of overwhelming opposition, especially from their family members, notably husbands, something that often affects how well they perform their jobs.
The main causes of this are husbands who do not want their wives to work shifts and attend to male patients. In fact, many Saudi nurses struggle to find husbands because of their professions. Even those Saudi males in the medical field refuse to marry nurses, Al-Watan newspaper reported.
Abrar is studying to become a nurse at Dammam University. “Our society looks at this profession in a negative way even though nursing is a lofty profession and has a strong humanitarian aspect to it,” she said, recounting how one of her classmates was turned down by a prospective husband after he came to know she was studying to become a nurse.
She added that another one of her classmates switched over to another course after two years because of her husband. “Another classmate had a similar bitter experience. Her husband told her to discontinue the course if her academic performance was found to be unsatisfactory,” she added.
Ramia, who is on the same course as Abrar, criticized the negative way with which young Saudi men view nursing graduates.
“Many doctors also refuse to marry nurses,” she said.
Nouf, another classmate, is finding it difficult to find a husband. “A young man had proposed to marry me. His mother then came to see me and it was then that she learned that I was a nursing student. The next day, she telephoned my family to break the engagement saying her son does not want to marry a nurse,” she said.
For Abrar the future is bright. Her fiancé wants her to work as a nurse. Her fiancé works at a hospital himself and has promised to help find her a job there.
Ahmad Aseeri, a marriage official in Abha, said nearly 90 percent of young men who visit him prefer working women to housewives. “However, about 60 percent of those who are marrying for the first time don’t want nurses. They cite several factors for this, such as unsociable working hours, gender mixing and stuff like that,” he said.
Salama Al-Atwi, a marriage official in Tabuk, said some young men who refuse to marry nurses fail to understand the important role they play in society. “Once a young man proposed to marry one of his relatives. He knew full well that she was a nursing student and that her elder sister worked as a nurse. After the marriage was fixed, the girl’s family insisted she be allowed to work as a nurse after she graduates, but he totally refused and the marriage was called off,” he said.
According to Al-Atwi, an overwhelming majority of young men in the age group between 20 and 30 do not want to marry nurses.
Dr. Ghazi Al-Shamri, head of the Family Solidarity Committee at the Eastern Region Governorate who is also supervisor of the family website Tusafeena (be honest with one another), said that even some doctors are hesitant to marry nurses.
“Most of the doctors working with the Ministry of Health do not want to marry women working in the same sector. There are several factors for this, including long hours, shift work and gender mixing. The high salaries that female doctors receive also sometimes leads to bitter disputes between couples,” he said, adding that he knows of several divorces in which the couples were both doctors.
“However, this cannot be generalized. There are several couples in which both husband and wife are doctors and they’re leading happily married lives,” he said, adding that the problems that female nurses face are not restricted to the Kingdom but also exist in other GCC states.
Al-Zayed said that some Saudi men do opt to marry nursing students or working nurses.
“But after getting married, these men mount pressure on them to obey their dictates. Such husbands direct them not to work shifts, prefer working in primary health care centers to hospitals, and avoid working with men,” she said, adding that this leads to many female nurses feeling stressed.
Al-Zayed, however, added that she has never heard of a nurse leaving her job because of her husband.
“However, I have seen several nursing students drop the subject when they get married,” she said.
She added that married nurses opt to work in primary health care centers to hospitals.
“There are only morning shifts in health centers. There are several instances in which nurses working at hospital try to get transferred to primary health centers. For this, they cite several excuses, going up to the extent that their family is on the verge of break up or divorce,” she said, recalling her long experience in the field.