Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Working in health care in the UAE

Is the United Arab Emirates for you?

Nurses and other health care professional are in high demand in the United Arab Emirates. So if you’re in the health sciences and looking to work abroad, the UAE might be the place for you. Before you pack your bags, there are things you need to know. Pamela Cawley, Dean of Health Sciences at Douglas, spent six years as Assistant Dean of Health Sciences at the Higher Colleges of Technology, in Abu Dhabi. She gives us the lowdown on life in the UAE, the cost of living, how expatriates are treated and more.

Can I get a job?

“Jobs are available – if you have, I’d say, at least three or four years of experience. It’s not the place for a new grad. The difference is that in Canada, we're more cross-trained. Here a Canadian grad will go into a hospital and maybe start off in X, Y and Z, and then migrate into another area in the hospital. You change your career as you go. There, it's more difficult. So whatever you're hired for tends to be what you're in. So in terms of a lot of jobs, they like western graduates, so there are definitely jobs. But you have to be very judicious in terms of asking the right questions when you go there, in terms of what kind of job are you going into, what specifically is being provided, and to get everything in writing.”

Is it a good career move?

“What you do over there might be viewed differently by an employer here. So you have to realize that. You have to think about why you're doing it. You may end up going there, and the money is so good that you stay there for a period of time. When you come back, you have to think about what you are coming back to, and you have to plan your career out very carefully. Qatar is good because they have contracts with Canadian institutions, like the College of the North Atlantic and the University of Calgary, so you can maintain your Canadian ties.”

Show me the money

“If you're going as a registered nurse with a few years’ experience, you’ll make about $6,000 a month. In faculty positions, you’ll make about $7,000–$8,000 a month..”

It isn’t cheap

“Housing is the big thing. You really need to go with a company that pays your housing costs, because it’s really hard to find reasonable housing. I had a four-bedroom apartment. It was nice, not luxurious, but nice. And the cost for that – and this was with Higher Colleges of Technology, who received good deals, was about $50,000 a year. Everything else is reasonably priced. A can of Coke is about $0.30. There's no tax, so food, gas, all of those things are inexpensive. But if you don't get paid housing, you’re not going to save money. You're not even going to break even.

The UAE vs Canada

“The biggest difference is that in the UAE health sciences are not a desired profession. The country has a lot of money, they put it into a lot of equipment and they do desire to build a good health care system, but developmentally – and I'm talking about the approach and culture – they operate in a medical model, because they still see health as cure and medical care.

Culture shock

“If you’re talking about only the UAE, you're going to see something that doesn't look that foreign to you. Women don't have to cover themselves, you don't have the same kind of restrictions in comparison to Saudi Arabia, for example. It's a Muslim society, it is conservative, and so you do have to be aware of what you are doing and be aware of what the culture is. You might get frustrated with how the Arab population sees today and sees yesterday. The future, in the Arab culture, is not a natural concept. If things do not work out, they are more prone to completely revamp, rather than revise. Things are constantly changing, you could say to be flexible, but it's a different kind of flexibility. So you have to be prepared to know yourself well in terms of how you handle change. The Arab cultures also don’t like to say “no,” so what you hear might sound like “yes” – because relationships are incredibly important and they are trying very hard not to offend you – when what they really mean is “no.”

View of the West

“Emiratis view Canadians with a lot of respect. But you're in their country to work for them – not serve in the sense of a servant – but the viewpoint is often that we are experts that they have hired. One thing that can be frustrating for westerners is you've come in as an expert, and they see that as the package. So if you want to develop yourself more it can be a difficult sell. Going to conferences and doing professional development is quite normal in our academic culture, but as the viewpoint is that your time there is transitory, it can be difficult to convince an employer that continued development is of benefit. Not impossible, but difficult. On the other hand, there are many conferences in the country that are quite good. ”

Lasting impressions

“It changed my life in many ways. In Canada we're very culturally aware. But I've got a bigger picture of culture now, which changed how I perceive a lot of things, including poverty. It's not poor in the UAE, but in the surrounding area there are pockets of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. There is a viewpoint that the West is more materialistic, and in some respects that is accurate. But it’s very important, in my opinion, to be a model of western culture that is balanced and accurate. Many expatriates do a significant amount of volunteer work, such as bringing in recycling programs, volunteering in nearby developmentally challenged areas, and teaching and encouraging priority safety practices, such as car seat use. It gave me perspective on how we’re viewed and also on how we look at ourselves and how we interact with the world. I think globalization is a huge force for anybody graduating today. The more you understand it, the better.”

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