Day in the life: Emirati doctor Maryam Matar

As the chairperson and founder of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association – one of many roles she holds – Dr Maryam Matar wears several hats in one day.

Dr Maryam Matar pose at her office at the UAE Genetic Diseases Association.  Jaime Puebla / The National
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Emirati Dr Maryam Matar, 36, says she wears 11 different hats in one week. One of them is chairperson and founder of the UAE Genetic Disease Association (GDA). She divides her time equally between Dubai and Japan – spending six weeks in each – to complete her PhD research at Yamaguchi University, in the UAE’s common blood diseases. Here, she talks about a recent Thursday in Dubai.


When I get up, I get my eight-year-old daughter Sara dressed myself – though I have a nanny – because it relieves the guilt of being away from her throughout the day. She has breakfast, and I sit with her and drink my water. I try to encourage Sara to start her day thinking of others. Every day, we give her Dh5. In the kitchen we have a box which we put change into – coins, Dh5 or Dh10 notes, and at the end of the month we give it to someone in need. I learnt this from one of my Japanese colleagues, after the Fukushima disaster.


I drop Sara at school, go to the gym for 20 minutes, come home and have breakfast – wholemeal bread, with butter and sometimes jam.


I drive to GDA and look through my emails. I check them every three hours, checking every minute is distracting. My assistant lets me know if there’s an urgent message.


I start counselling. We campaign in colleges and universities where we encourage people to be screened for the most common genetic disorders in the UAE, free of charge. We approach those found positive by email and tell them they are eligible for counselling. One male student who had been screened positive for G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency came with 12 members of his family. The mother had passed the abnormal genes on to her sons. Both parents were illiterate and I had to explain to them about genetics. The couple were cousins; his mother was his wife’s auntie. So she got that abnormal gene because of his family.


I receive an email from Lord Darzi, a former UK health minister, inviting me to be involved in an article he’s publishing about the patient-centric approach to care. I pinch myself to make sure it was real. He attended a conference in Qatar, where I’d spoken about my experience of getting the premarital investigation law approved in the UAE, when I was undersecretary of the Ministry of Health.


I have a meeting at Bourn Hall IVF Centre, as I’m their adviser. They have some cases they needed me to audit.


I have chicken and rice for lunch in my car. People think it’s not a good habit to eat in the car. But I feel so comfortable there. I eat in the back seat and listen to Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu’s music. I don’t answer the phone – it’s on silent. I eat slowly, and enjoy each bite.


I have a meeting about our annual GDA conference, which will be held in September. At the conference, we will announce our new society for breast cancer – which will be a separate branch of UAE GDA. It will focus on research related to breast cancer rather than awareness. We will also announce the new Celiac Disease Society to increase awareness.


I call my husband and ask him to meet me. My husband was number 27 of the suitors who asked for my hand in marriage – he was the one I accepted. We spend 30 minutes at a coffee shop, enough to push me ahead with the rest of the day.


I have a dinner meeting – pizza, salad and pistachio ice-cream – with a producer from a TV channel. They want me to help them develop a series of 13 programmes. He said ‘if I had a budget and a crew, what would I like to talk about?’ I told him, a subject related to the healthcare economy.


I go through my emails in the car. Sometimes at home I get distracted, but in my car it’s my world.


I arrive home. Home is paradise to me. My grandmother is waiting for me. She’s 87 and still very active. Whenever I come home, she’s prepared my dinner – and though I’ve already eaten it makes her happy to know things are ready for me.

I have a shower and wash my hair every night. I love pampering myself. A day cannot be complete without my favourite pillow.It’s pinkish with small roses on it.

When I compare an ordinary day in Dubai with a day in Japan, my day here is more community related; I give more back, and that’s really satisfying. When I go back to Japan, it is more about giving back to myself.

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