International Nurses Day: Emirati frontline workers urge others to join the profession

Nurses will mark May 12 by raising the challenges of the job, especially during the coronavirus pandemic

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 07, 2021: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (R), presents an Abu Dhabi Award to Dr Fatima Al Refaei (L), during an awards ceremony, at Qasr Al Hosn.

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )

Emirati nurses have come together to celebrate their work and encourage others to join the profession on International Nurses Day.

Dr Fatima Al Refaei, who set up the Emirates Nursing Association in 2003, said May 12 was an important day for the profession to raise awareness of the vital job nurses were doing.

She has been taking care of patients since the 1960s.

Dr Al Refaei and all nurses devoted the past couple of years to supporting Covid-19 patients.

They became the real heroes of the country as they worked long shifts, sometimes seven days a week, at testing centres and field hospitals.

But Sara Al Shamli, unit nurse manager at Seha’s Ambulatory Healthcare Services, said she and her colleagues did not mind the additional burden, nor did they count the hours.

“We would be called in in the middle of the night because a plane had landed with a suspected Covid case or was asked to go to testing centres at the border," she said.

Despite having five children, caring for patients is always important to Ms Al Shamli.

“We did our job,” she said. "Our country needed us and we were happy to serve.

“I think that Covid has shown others and the world how important the role of nurses is.

“They were at the forefront caring for patients and their families and putting themselves in danger. Their role was quite amazing so I salute them and all nurses around the world."

An old photo of Dr Fatima Al Refaei and her classmates at Texas Women's University in December 1979. Dr Al Refaei is in the first row, third from the left. Photo: Dr Fatima Al Refaei's family / Abu Dhabi Awards

Dr Al Refaei was one of the first Emiratis to complete a bachelor's degree in nursing. She also holds a doctorate in nursing and has received the Abu Dhabi Award given by the Crown Prince Court to honour the "unsung heroes of the pandemic".

She has helped to launch training and teaching programmes for nurses and hopes more Emiratis can join the field.

“I salute the commitment and hard work of Emirati nurses and nurses all over the world," Dr Al Refaei said.

"I ask them to continue caring for people with compassion. This is something only they can provide in the medical field but I also ask them to take care of themselves so they can take care of others.

“I would also like the community to encourage their children to join nursing because we need more nurses in the field. If we all believe in the importance of the role of nurses then it is a national commitment to encourage more Emiratis to join.

"The government and the leadership have shown tremendous support but we also need the support of the community."

SEHA staff and nurses at the  SEHA Covid-19 Drive-Through Service Center at the Corniche in Abu Dhabi on June 17th, 2021.  There is a huge demand for vaccinations and PCRs after the green pass restrictions. Victor Besa / The National.
Reporter: Shireena Al Nowais for News

Of the 6,311 nurses in Abu Dhabi’s Seha facilities, 170 are Emiratis. Only one is an Emirati man. Many of the rest are Asian.

But the number of Emiratis joining the profession is gradually on the rise.

Zainab Lari, 35, Seha’s corporate nursing governing and performance officer, said perceptions were changing.

She said she faced some strong opposition from her family when she decided to become a nurse.

“My father told me to follow my passion which nursing has always been," Ms Lari said. "But my uncles and extended family opposed it because of the long hours and because it meant having to work with the opposite gender.”

Those negative views changed when her cousin, 3, accidentally dropped boiling tea on herself at a family gathering.

“I rushed to do some basic first aid and this is when they realised how important the role of a nurse is," Ms Lari said. "Being a nurse is not just about giving medication.

“There is a push from the government and Seha to increase the numbers of nurses and now we need the support of the community as well."

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world each year on May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth, to highlight the contributions that nurses make to society.

Nurses in UAE support the fight against pandemic - in pictures

Updated: May 11, 2022, 3:23 PM