Abdulateef Al-Mulhim | Arab News
In 1975, the only university in the Eastern Province was a small petroleum college. It was located in Dhahran and it is an all-men school.
Any student from the Eastern Province who didn’t attend this petroleum college would have to go to Riyadh to attend the university there — King Saud University. Students in Saudi Arabia were lucky, because they got a free education and monthly stipends. Those who went to Riyadh would use the monthly payments to cover their own personal expenses. The situation for young women was a little harder. Yes, they still got the same free education and monthly payment, but the young Saudi women who wanted to continue their university education in Riyadh would only be able to finish their university degrees if they had relatives or family friends to live with.
University housing was not available for most of the young girls. Female students had very limited options to choose from at that time. The university fields were limited to subjects including Arabic literature, history, geography and Islamic studies. The Saudi young women were eager to master the field of medicine. The number of female Saudi physicians or nurses was almost nonexistent. Now the achievements of Saudi women in medicine have far exceeded every expectation in the Kingdom.
The amount of achievements in any society is measured by where it was yesterday and where it is today. The most important part of any society is a good education and an advanced health care system. The University of Dammam achieved both. It educated thousands of young men and women, and at the same time it had the biggest positive impact on the health care system in the Kingdom. The University of Dammam was behind Saudi women’s achievements in medicine. Those achievements were far beyond any Saudi’s imagination when the university was established. The young Saudi women who attended the College of Medicine when the university was established became the nucleus of what would be one of most influential medical complexes in the Kingdom.
When the university was established in 1975, it had two campuses. Dammam campus was secondary. The main campus was in Hofuf (Al-Hassa). The two campuses started operating in the academic year 1974/75 and were officially inaugurated by King Khaled on May 24, 1977. The university’s name was King Faisal University. At that time Dammam campus had two colleges. One was in the field of medicine and medical sciences and the other was architecture and planning. It had three centers — English language, computer sciences and publication and translation. Later on, enrollment numbers reached tens of thousands. The Ministry of Higher Education then separated the two campuses and the Dammam campus became the University of Dammam in 2009. Now the University of Dammam covers six cities in the Eastern Province, including Dammam, Jubail, Khafji, Khobar, Nu’Airiya and Qateef. The university now has 24 colleges, 123 departments, 1,414 faculty members and about 25,000 students. To the surprise of many people, Saudi young women have the lion’s share of the number of seats in the field of medicine.
The university has one of the largest medical training facilities in the Middle East. It has a university hospital with more than 500 beds. Treatment in the hospital is free. The medical equipment in this hospital is state-of-the-art. The hospital helped many Saudi men and women improve their skills. Dr. Abdullah Al-Rubaish, the current rector of the university, graduated in 1984 and held many positions in the university before reaching his current position. He was also educated in Alberta, Canada. He was on a fellowship in pulmonary medicine. His track record is full of achievements in medical science. He was a resident in internal medicine, chief resident in internal medicine, chief pulmonary medicine, specialist and consultant in internal medicine and associate professor of internal medicine. Al-Rubaish is a fine example of the university production line. And even after being rector at the University of Dammam, he still practiced his medical skills. A physician will always be a physician.
The University of Dammam helped young Saudi women both in the classroom and in social life. This achievement ran parallel to government efforts to help Saudi women advance in many fields. In the past, some social obstacles hampered the women’s movement toward top of the line education. In a very short time, Saudi women achieved universal success in secondary education.
With these achievements, Saudi women were able to progress and close the gender gap. Many young Saudi women performed far better than many young men in the field of medicine. There are many visible positive signs that came along with women’s education such as lowered mortality rate, improved health and good nutrition. Also, for being in university, women learned a lot about fair rights. Saudi university law, civil service law and labor law treat women the same as men. And the positive impact of the university extended to very young girls. Dropout rates decreased. Now every little girl wants to be a college graduate and wear the white hospital uniform. Being a woman doctor is not only a guarantee of high profile job but also a respected place in the society.
Early Saudi women graduates didn’t serve hospitals in the Eastern Province only. Many young Saudi women served as educators for other women. They worked as volunteers and had many achievements in society. Many of them made Saudi citizens proud with their achievements. I will give a very small example of the medical achievements of some Saudi graduates at the University of Dammam.
Dr. Laila Telmesani graduated in 1984 and continued her educational path in the Kingdom and Switzerland. She is a consultant in otology and chair of an ENT department.
Dr. Iman Al-Sheik graduated in 1984 and specialized in hematology. She is the director of laboratories at the university hospital and an associate professor.
Dr. Fatmah Al-Mulhim, graduated in 1985, is now the chair of the radiology department at the university hospital. She is very active member of the Saudi Cancer Foundation.
Dr. Sana Al-Mahmoud graduated in 1984 and is the vice dean of the College of Nursing. She has a health services management and health planning degree from the universities of Birmingham and Leeds.
Dr. Ahlam Alqatari graduated in 1984 and is a hematology consultant. In addition to that, she is very active in society and established the Alattaa Ladies Charity in Qatif.
Dr. Layla Beshawri graduated in 1986. She is a chairperson of the MLT department at the College of Applied Medical Science.
Dr. Dalal Al-Tamimi graduated in 1982. She is the dean for university studies for female students, acting dean of the Nursing College and chairperson of the Pathology Department. The above are examples of thousands of women who pursued their dreams to make major contributions to Saudi achievements, not only in the Eastern Province, but in all parts of the Kingdom. Those young women achieved medical miracles and worked hard day and night. They were able to do it without losing their hold on Saudi culture.
Saudi women entered the field of medicine without affecting their roles as wives, mothers and an important part of society. The Saudi women gained the respect of citizens and all the people who worked with them, taught them and learnt from them in Saudi Arabia or abroad. Almost all Saudi women doctors studied abroad. To this day, there are hundreds of Saudi women seeking higher studies in world-class medical institutes or hospitals in the US, Canada, the UK and many other places. And many of these young women started their education in places like the University of Dammam.
The University of Dammam started as part of a university, but turned out to be one of the largest universities in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region. It was able to sustain a very healthy environment of ethical scientific research and discoveries. The university opened the classrooms to young talented Saudi women, opened new horizons and paved the way to a bright future for them. There are many Saudi women who achieved international recognition in many medical fields and the best thing about their achievements is they have done it quietly with style. Many of them didn’t know that we said thank you for their achievements. They were simply busy serving their country. The Saudi women doctors and nurses are heroes who achieved miracles and they deserve to be appreciated.
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is a Commodore (Retired), Royal Saudi Navy. He is a frequent contributor to the SUSRISblog. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally published in Arab News.
Also by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim:
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