Emirati nurses say their job needs higher status to attract more UAE nationals, as some complained they are seen as 'helpers' rather than medical professionals.
Citizens who work in Abu Dhabi government hospitals urged more young people to embrace the field, at a summit for nurses on Tuesday.
Using their training and language skills to support patients of all backgrounds is rewarding they said - but hard work, as medics around the world can attest to.
Rabab Abdallah, chair of the organising committee of the UAE's first International Nursing Excellence Conference, run by the government hospital operator Seha, said better recognition is needed.
“This is a transient workforce that will eventually leave but as Emiratis this is our home,” said Mrs Abdallah.
“Emirati nurses don’t need translators and can understand the needs of their Emirati patients both medically and emotionally. We understand the language and the culture,” she said.
The event this week is examining the future of nursing, including how it can be made more attractive to Emiratis.
At present, about 200 of the 8,000 nurses at Seha hospitals are Emiratis. Many of the rest are Asian, such as Filipino and Indian, among other nationalities.
Ms Abdallah said her colleagues have asked for advanced training and more opportunities.
“This is why we are asking for support and programs to help develop our skills and are asking for training and accreditation for specialised Emirati nurses,” she said.
Seha told The National it is planning to roll out advanced training next year in critical care and other specialities.
The starting salary of an Emirati nurse at Seha hospitals is about Dh30,000 per month. That compares to about Dh18,000 for an expatriate nurse.
But not enough young Emiratis are graduating from Fatima College of Health Sciences and entering nursing. Many with science qualifications can find better paying jobs, nurses said.
Houria Al Naqbi, who works at Mafraq Hospital on the outskirts of the city, has been a nurse for more than twelve years and has a master's degree. She hopes to be further trained and choose a specialisation.
"Nurses are still seen as doctors' assistants or helpers - and that is not who we are," she said.
"Many people still think that we can't take any decisions on our own. That is wrong. Specialties will help us elevate our profession and gain more respect."
She commutes from Sharjah and rents accommodation in Abu Dhabi, because salaries are higher, about Dh38,000 for her position.
Suhair Helal said the job has its challenges, particularly night shifts, which can put new recruits off.
“Many of the nurses have families and young children so it is difficult for them to do a twelve hour night shift,” Ms Helal said.
“They would prefer doing a straight day shift.”
Sakeena Al Hashmi, who also works at Mafraq, said many of her peers have used their qualifications to take non-nursing medical jobs, and are often focused on gaining a certain 'position' rather than the day to day work.
“Many of my friends and colleagues outside Seha are now managers and heads of clinics," she said.
She accepted nursing is a tough profession.
“At my age, I am still doing night shifts and making beds like I was doing when I first started.”
Samah Mahmoud, deputy chief of nursing and midwifery at Seha, said that Emiratisation remains a top priority and should be helped the implementation of the new specialisation scheme next year.
“We are now starting the programme in certain critical care specialties such as paediatrics, emergency and operating room and affiliating with national and international institutions to start this," she said.
As for salaries and housing allowances, she said that their salary scale “compared to others” is in “good shape.”
“The majority of nationals have their own houses and if not then have then they have the supplement to support them,” she said.
She agreed that the profession does need be elevated - "the problem why we could not attract more Emiratis is because of the image" - but said nurses are better equipped than in the past.
"They now practise like practitioners and in front of the public look like physicians too", she said.