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Nursing and Travel in the Middle East

Photo: Nursing and Travel in the Middle East
Live Webinar recorded 14th August 2016.

Nurses, ever considered working and travelling in the Middle East?

In this webinar, we speak to people that have done it before, and that can assist you to pursue a travel nursing opportunity in the Middle East - CCM Recruitment.

To learn more visit CCMRecruitment.com, or call: in Australia 1800 818 844, in New Zealand 0800 700 839



Martin:   Hello everyone, and welcome to the HealthTimes webinar. Tonight we are discussing nursing and travel in the Middle East and I’m joined here by Dawn Jenkins and, in Sydney, Raquel. Welcome ladies, thanks so much for joining us.
Before we get stuck into the details of what it’s like to work and travel in the Middle East, a couple of housekeeping items. The first is we welcome any chat contributions you want to make, so if you have any questions you want to send through you will have, to the right of your YouTube video screen, a chat frame. Or, at the bottom of your phone, if you’re on a phone device, there should be a space where you can enter questions so feel free to send in any questions that you have so that we can address them through the discussion.

So, let’s dive into this. Perhaps we’ll start by Dawn and Raquel giving us an introduction to yourselves and your background.

Dawn:  Thanks Martin. My name’s Dawn and I’ll just give you a brief summary of my career to date. I qualified as a Registered Nurse in Dublin, in Ireland, and I worked as a Registered Nurse there for a few years before taking the plunge to go to the Middle East. I decided to go and work at the military hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. That was a great choice for me and straight away the settling in period was very easy. There was a good mix of nationalities, there was a high number of western staff so really, care for the patients there was similar to the care that patients had back in Dublin. There was a great orientation period, it was well organized, well coordinated, and from that point on, career wise, it was a great experience.

Personally, the social life was terrific. I made lifelong friends, met my husband, and probably ticked off a list of about 14 countries that I had wanted to visit. At the end of two years I decided to go back to nursing in Dublin and a friend of mine had mentioned that CCM Recruitment were looking for a consultant. Part of the criteria was you needed to have worked in the Middle East, so I applied for the job and obviously ended up starting to work with CCM Recruitment. That really resonated with me because you really do need to have worked in the Middle East to be able to explain what the life experience is like, from start to finish, and to really be able to give a first hand experience about that.

I stayed and worked with CCM in Dublin for three years and then myself and my husband moved over to Sydney at the end of 2003. In January 2004 I set the office up in Sydney. Again, another learning experience. I had to learn about all he healthcare systems in Australia and New Zealand. That in itself was challenging and rewarding.

We recruit to other countries outside the Middle East but really the Middle East is where our expertise lies and that’s where we continue to go. The point of difference over other agencies is that we have lived the experience and I think you can’t underestimate the value of that. So that in itself as been a wonderful learning experience. We get to stay within the medical profession as well and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.

About 5 years ago I decided, with my family, to move to Melbourne. So now I’m based in Melbourne and the head office in Sydney remains there. We have satellite offices in Rome; our head office is based in London; we have our office in Sydney and our base in Melbourne. So that makes us the largest international recruitment agency for placing nurses in the Middle East.

Martin:  Terrific. And Raquel, can you give us a bit about your background?

Raquel:  Thanks, Martin. My name’s Raquel, I’m based in the Sydney office and I’ve been working with CCM for about ten and a half years now as a recruitment consultant. I joined Dawn when she was working in the Sydney office. Prior to that I was a Registered Nurse and nursed for around ten years. I did my nursing training in New Zealand and then I went over to London for a couple of years and worked there, in Central London, in the paediatric hospitals. From there I ended up going to the Middle East and I worked in Saudi Arabia for around four years and that’s one of our clients, the King Faisal Hospital and Research Centre. That’s located in Riyadh, which is the capital of Saudi.  I actually came across the King Faisal Hospital by attending an information day with CCM Recruitment and that for me was really helpful because it gave me the opportunity to meet with other nurses that were also interested in considering going over to Saudi Arabia. For me it was reassuring to know that there were other nurses as crazy as I was to want to go over and do that type of thing.

So I went over, I stayed for four years – I only intended to stay for one but stayed for four and for me it was a really enjoyable experience. A lot of the nurses that I met on the information day with CCM actually started on the same orientation as me which was terrific because immediately I knew a couple of people and we became close friends during the time I was here and I’m still in contact with quite a few of them now, several years later.

Having worked in the Middle East I then had an interest in recruitment – from having that contact with CCM. That led me into the position that I’ve been in for the last few years.

Martin:  Terrific, thanks guys. So, Raquel, it might be helpful now if you can talk a bit more about what it’s actually like from a clinical perspective. How does working at the likes of King Faisal differ from working in an Australian hospital?

Raquel:  Generally speaking, the main difference when you’re working in the hospitals in the Middle East is probably the patient documentation. Everything in the Middle East is computerised so when you’re doing your patient documentation they use systems over there such as EPIC and also ISIS – which is a bit of an unfortunate name in this day and age. Your documentation is done on the spot, on a laptop or on a tablet, at the patient bedside.

In addition to that was the medication dispensing they use, a Pyxis System. So those are things that you might need to adapt to if you’re not used to that here in Australia, NZ, Ireland or London but the hospital does provide excellent training. The first two to four weeks after you arrive in the Middle East you are purely just doing orientation, they’re training you up on all those types of systems.

The working week in the Middle East is from Sunday through to Thursday so your weekend is actually Friday and Saturday, which again is a little bit different from what we’re used to here. The positions over there are full-time. At the King Faisal I was working 44 hours per week, some of the other hospitals it’s 40 hours per week. The shifts that you do there are 12 hour shifts, if you’re working in the medical/surgical wards, ICU, ED – you’ll be working from something like 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night and then the reverse for the night shifts.

A lot of people actually ask us, in relation to the workplace, “What do I wear?” “What sort of uniforms do they wear in the Middle East?” and “Do we have to cover up when we’re nursing in those hospitals?” The uniforms are actually very similar to what you’re used to in Australia and New Zealand. They wear scrubs, so you’ll have the short sleeve, V-neck top and the trousers to go with that. The great thing about the hospitals in the Middle East is that they have a laundry service so you don’t even need to bother about washing your uniform. You can just put it in and they’ll take care of that for you as well.

Martin:  Can you tell us a bit about career progression opportunities over there? What level were you working at? Are those opportunities available and are there opportunities for you to progress, in terms of management opportunities?

Raquel:  Yes, absolutely. And in fact, in the Middle East there are actually more opportunities for promotion compared to Australia and New Zealand. The hospitals that we recruit to are large, they’re around 1000 beds, so with that there are more opportunities, You might go over as a staff nurse and you progress into a charge nurse role. If you’re interested in go into, maybe, a clinical nurse educator role, they will help you and support you to go into that. You do need to work for the first 12 months in the position that you’ve been employed to go into first, just to settle in, see how the land lies, and get used to the systems. But certainly then they’re very supportive to promote you and people have progressed from staff to nurse managers and stayed there for quite some time.

In addition to that, the professional development that they provide in the hospitals is excellent as well. There are a lot of courses that they run through the hospital and international seminars. A lot of people go over to the Middle East because they want to study, they want to do their postgrad or do their masters, and they have a lot of study groups within the hospitals - people who are doing distance learning through Universities in Australia or New Zealand.

Martin:  How do work opportunities vary from country to country? I would have thought working in, for example, Saudi Arabia, would be very different to working in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Raquel:  Most people have that impression but, to be honest, they’re actually quite similar. Working in Saudi Arabia and working in the UAE hospitals - things are quite similar with that, with the cultural aspect. The patients that you’ll be looking after when you go over there will either be local Saudi nationals or the Emiratis. Generally speaking English won’t be their first language so there is that language barrier and that’s just part of the challenge of working over there. It’s part of the package of going to the Middle East. They work that out very well in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia - they have interpreters and also the ward clerks will help you and they’ll be doing interpreting for you as well.

Martin:  Terrific. That’s a great introduction to the actual working experience. Dawn, can you talk a bit about what it’s like to live over there?

Dawn:  I can tell you a little bit about the accommodation, that’s probably one of the most important factors when you’re over there because your accommodation is your home.  Generally, the accommodation in the hospitals is provided free of charge. The apartments tend to be two bedroom, two bathroom apartments, so you’ll always have your own bedroom and your own bathroom. It’s fully furnished, there’s linen on the bed when you arrive, so everything is there – even a little welcome pack with food, all your basics just to get you started when you arrive. That’s really important.

They do try to make sure that the mix is as good as it can possibly be. If you’re from Australia they’ll maybe try to house you with someone from Ireland, the UK, Australia or New Zealand. If you’re a little bit older or if you’re someone who doesn’t like to share, there are opportunities for studio type living as well. Often you have to go on a waitlist for that type of living but it is available. Sometimes you just have to wait a little bit longer to avail of that.

Martin:  What about transport? How do you get around? How do you travel from home to work?

Dawn:   Transport is provided free of charge, again. You can get from your accommodation to the hospital free of charge. The shuttle buses run at different times throughout the day. They’re fully air conditioned, they leave at different times – if you’re the type of person who likes to be at work five minutes early there will be a bus that suits you, if you’re someone who likes to rock up to work 20 minutes early, grab a coffee on the way in, there’s something there that will suit you as well.

In relation to transport in general though, nurses in Saudi will have to use taxis or, what they’re known as over there, Limos. You tend to have almost your own driver. The limos are all very cheap, certainly in comparison to Australia and New Zealand, so it’s very easy to get around. There are plenty there. Sometimes a limo service is provided exclusively for the hospital so the drivers know where all the nurses want to go – all the beauticians, all the hairdressers, all that sort of thing.

In the UAE it’s a bit different you can actually drive as a female, so it’s easier to get around if you’re keen to do that. You do need to be brave because they’re pretty crazy drivers. But if that’s not appealing to you, if you don’t want to drive in the UAE, you can just get the taxis and it’s the same thing again – much, much cheaper than it would be in Australia and New Zealand.

Martin:  From a cultural perspective, did you ever find yourself feeling constrained or limited or was it confronting?

Dawn:  There are cultural differences, obviously. Living in the Middle East is quite a unique experience. In Saudi Arabia, for example, as a female you do need to wear an abaya. The easiest way to explain what an abaya is… it’s like a silky black dressing gown. When you’re out in public places that is something that you do need to wear. Actually just today I received an email from someone and they said their abaya’s the best thing, you don’t need to worry about what you’re wearing underneath and its just easy to get around. All joking aside you must wear that when you’re out in public.

We do recommend that you put a headscarf, it can be black or it can be coloured, in your handbag as well. On the odd occasion, you could be there two years and never asked – it tends to be, if you went down to the souk areas or the markets where the gold souks are, the material souks, you may be asked to cover your head. In that instance, in a polite way, you just put the scarf over your head and then you just drop it around your shoulders when you’re a few meters away.

Martin:  What about recreational activities, what sort of stuff did you do?

Dawn:  Recreational activities are terrific, depending on what you do here you can pretty much do it over there. You can go swimming, you can go cycling, you can go running, there’s different clubs you can join. If you’re a person who enjoys team sports there’s the GAA, which is the Irish Gaelic association which is set up over there. You certainly don’t need to be Irish to play on that team, there’s some great Aussie and New Zealand girls as part of the team. You play against different cities within the region and it’s a lot of fun. Same for rugby - it’s a social gathering all the time. You’ve got the Dubai 7’s and certainly - when I was in Riyadh, there was a team that went over there are used to play in December and it was a lot of fun. So you can be as busy as you want to be, it’s up to you really.

Martin:  Terrific. Raquel, did you have any perspectives on recreational activities and the sort of things you used to get up to in your private time?

Raquel:  We had good fun going out to the sand dunes, quad biking, we did overnight camp outs, which was good fun. It’s on the edge of the desert when you look out as far as you can see into the horizon it’s just desert and it looks like the surface of the moon, its amazing. It’s a must see.

We did a bit of golfing, which was certainly not something that I did prior to going to the Middle East. Golfing is actually very cheap and accessible there. So, if that’s something that you’ve never done and want to try, there’s golfing.

A lot of people are also big into running over there. They do marathons and they have a road runners club as well in Riyadh, which is really popular. There’s a beautiful running track at the diplomatic quarters in the city of Riyadh where you can go for big long runs, you can wear what you want to wear, there’s no restrictions there. That’s where a lot of people do their training as well.

Martin:  Perhaps now we can talk a bit about the benefit, remuneration and, ultimately, the financial benefits of working in the Middle East.

Dawn:  Working in the Middle East is certainly beneficial financially. It used to be that all the nurses would get paid a flat salary but that has since changed and now experience is recognized. So, often following the interview the hospital will look at a nurses individual experience, whether they’ve completed any postgraduate courses, they will take into consideration what you’re earning currently and sometimes they’ll even look at the type of hospital – if you work in a large tertiary hospital they’ll take that into consideration as well. Then they will generate an offer on an individual basis. That’s really important because your experience is now recognized.

Sometimes the salaries don’t sound as large as what people expect but realistically, if you’re going to somewhere like Saudi or the UAE, what you have at the end of the month is the difference. You could live on a third of your salary very comfortably in Riyadh and walk away with 2/3 of your salary saved. In Abu Dhabi the cost of living is a little bit higher but you’d still walk away with considerably more than you would have at the end of the month living in Australia of New Zealand.

Martin:  So it’s a lot easier to save money.

Dawn:  Absolutely. Your salary is paid to you tax-free. It’s important again to make sure that you set yourself up properly before you leave and you seek tax advice. We’re not tax advisors and we can’t provide tax advice but it’s sometimes worth paying that small amount of money and getting some advice before you go, just so you save yourself a problem later.

Martin:  What about other benefits, things like medical and dental cover?

Dawn:  The contracts vary in length. In Saudi, generally, the contract is a one-year or two-year contract. We have a hospital in Abu Dhabi at the moment and they offer an open-ended contract so that’s quite unique. Your flight - for example, in Saudi you would have a return annual ticket paid every year. In comparison, at hospital in Abu Dhabi at the moment, you get a small flight allowance paid into your salary every month.  You get free accommodation as we discussed earlier. Utilities are free in Saudi Arabia but you do pay for utilities in the UAE now. The girls are telling us, on average, they pay maybe $50-70 per month which is, again, very low in comparison to Australia and New Zealand.

Medically, everybody is covered. If you have any medical ailments throughout your stay that will be covered and generally emergency and dental - each contract differs somewhat but we can break that all down easily with the nurse when they enquire. That’s just a quick summary of the overall benefits.

Martin:  And I would have thought being so close to Europe and Asia, travel would be a big part of the benefits, right?

Dawn:  It certainly was for me and for a lot of people, especially from this part of the world. You can go to London, you can go to Paris, you can go to central Europe within six hours. It’s the same as flying to Perth from the east coast of Australia. You can visit the pyramids; you can go to Jordan within two hours; you can go to Sri Lanka; you can go to South Africa and go on an amazing safari. You can go on holidays throughout the year versus here you’d be saving all year just to do something like that.

Martin:  Let’s talk a bit about requirements for candidates. There’s a bunch of nurses out there, no doubt, really interested, think it sounds like a great opportunity - What are the requirements for nurses that want to pursue this?

Dawn:  The minimum requirement is that a nurse needs to be registered for two years and have two years experience before they can apply. That’s the stipulation by the Saudi registration boards and the Saudi council. If a nurse is thinking about this, certainly after 18 months, start to get into contact with us. We can help them with their CVs, start to get the paperwork rolling so that when they have those two years completed then they’re ready to go.

Martin:  Outside of Registered Nurses? Midwives?

Dawn:  Midwives, allied health professionals, physios, radiographers, laboratory technicians, really any type of job you can think of in the hospital, medically, we can help

Martin:  And Enrolled Nurses and Assistants in Nursing, is that something …

Dawn:  No, unfortunately not. They don’t employ Enrolled Nurses and Assistants in Nursing from Australia.

Martin:  What sort of opportunities are currently available?

Dawn:  The opportunities that are currently available would be… well really, we’ve got quite a few. There’s a road trip which is coming up so we’re going to be going to Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and we’re going to be going to Auckland as well towards the end of the year. It’s more about getting out there with the nurses, meeting them, being able to talk to them and tell them a bit about the locations that we recruit to.

We have a client coming over from Abu Dhabi, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, it’s a new hospital and they’re going to have 72 ICU beds when it’s open to it’s full capacity. So this time when they come over they’re looking for ICU nurses and we’re going to be working closely with them and going to the Australasian Critical Care Conference. That’s something else that’s coming up.

If nurses are outside of the ICU specialty and would like to apply to somewhere like the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, we can still submit their application online.

Martin:  So, there’s definitely opportunities outside critical care?

Dawn:  Absolutely. We have another client coming over towards the end of the years as well from the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  Katie is the international recruitment manager for nursing and she will be coming over. She’s originally from the UK but she’s lived and worked, for a large portion of her career, in Melbourne so she’s very familiar with what its like to work and live in this part of the region. She’s going to be a great person to come and listen to and she’ll be able to give great comparisons.

The final thing - because we’ve had a few nurses emailing today just in relation to the webinar and what time it was happening in the UK and Ireland. For anyone in that part of the world, there are open days for our Dublin Office, today and tomorrow from 4pm to 9pm.  So, anyone that feels like dropping in to the CCM Dublin office, today and tomorrow is the day to avail yourself of that opportunity. Also in London on the 26th of September from 3pm to 8pm. All the details will be on our website.

Martin:  Are there various times of the year that tend to be busier in terms of recruitment?

Dawn:  It varies. Sometimes we’ll find that people here will want to stay for the summer and then there will be a large portion that will want to travel from February to March onwards. In wintertime there’s always a lot of interest because nobody likes the cold weather here in Australia and New Zealand. It varies somewhat, but sometimes it’s busier. September tends to be a busy month as well. 

Martin:  So guys, it’s pretty clear, if you’re interested in this opportunity and you meet the minimum requirements that have been mentioned the key is to get in contact with CCM recruitment and learn more about what’s available.

In terms of questions that have been sent through, by various means… Length of contract? Do they vary significantly?  Does the candidate have much choice in terms of the length that’s available?

Dawn: The contracts generally, in Saudi, would be one-year or a two-year contacts. The first three months is a probationary period so it does give you that settling in period both for the hospital to make sure they are happy with you as an employee but also it gives you that settling in period to make sure that you’re happy and you’re happy to stay and live there. You have that three month period, which is nice to know. You can leave at the end of three months if you’re not happy or if you’re not comfortable. After that, if you did want to terminate your contract early, you can do so by handing in your resignation and tendering three months notice.

In Abu Dhabi we have a hospital called Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi and that’s an open-ended contract so again, that’s quite unique.

Apart from that is does tend to be a one-year or two-year contract across the board.

Martin:  We’ve got lots of great questions coming in. Part-time contracts? Is that common?

Dawn:  No, an odd time we do get a locum contract like recently we had a locum contract on offer for emergency nurses. It’s quite seldom when they do come up and you do need to travel quite quickly. So when they come up definitely let us know if you’re interested.

Martin:  Nurse to patient ratios, what sort of requirements do they have over there?

Dawn:  It varies from hospital to hospital, so it’s probably better to have an individual discussion about that in relation to what hospital you want to work at but it does tend to be quite similar to what your expectation would be here in Australia.

Martin:  Great. And what’s the time frame if someone is asked to take a job over there?

Dawn:  If someone wants to travel to Saudi Arabia, for example, you’re looking at about a four month time frame from when you initially enquire. We send you out the relevant paperwork, you complete the paperwork and are interviewed, and you generally do need to get a medical before you go and get a visa on your passport.

For the UAE it’s a little bit longer because you must be registered with the health authority of Abu Dhabi before you travel and that on average can take anywhere between four to six months. So, allow six months.

Martin:  So you’ll have time to plan your trip.

Dawn:  Exactly. Call and you’ll have plenty of time.

Martin:  What about families or marriage, nurses that are married, what are the restrictions or opportunities?

Dawn:  Unfortunately because the accommodation is provided, it’s impossible for the hospitals to provide accommodation for you and your family so, unless it’s a senior position, all contracts are single.

Martin:  So if you wanted a partner to go with you you’d have to rent your own accommodation? Is that not an option?

Dawn:  It is, but it’s becoming more tricky. If you’re partner’s a nurse then that’s different, we can work together with you two so that you can get accommodation together. Or if your partner, for example, wants to go and work in the UAE and he/she wants to find their own employment then we can work together with you. Once they’ve obtained their employment we can help you and explain how that all works.

Martin:  So there is some flexibility for families. Are there positions for administrative professionals as well?

Dawn:  Yes, there are some. Not as many as there used to be but certainly if someone works in an administrative role definitely get in contact. There are a smaller number of hospitals now looking for that type of employee.

Martin:  Ok. Some more questions, these ones on recreation. Are there cinemas with western movies or western TV shows?

Dawn:  Sometimes the hospitals will set something up, like there’s a social club or something like that and they might show a movie that way other times you tend to be able to get cheap DVDs quite quickly and you can watch the more recent movies that way.

Martin:  Great. Now, hiking and fishing?

Dawn:  Hiking is definitely possible. You can go out into the more remote areas. I think Raquel touched base on that where you can go out on big campouts. On the weekend, in Saudi, there’s a walking group where they’ll go out and go walking and it’s the same in the UAE as well so you can join a club and go hiking. Fishing… well, UAE’s on the coast so if you’re into fishing you can certainly give that a go. A little bit more tricky depending on where you are in Saudi but Jed is along the red sea which is a beautiful, beautiful location so fishing is definitely an opportunity there as well.

Martin:  Terrific. The last one that we have coming through is about exercise, so gyms and yoga classes.

Dawn:  The hospitals do provide gymnasiums so that’s an easy question to answer. There are gyms outside the hospitals as well if you want to join and additional classes – there are gyms there, you can go to yoga classes, I even did a little Ti Kwon Do for a while so there’s lots of different opportunities available. Sometimes it’s just not advertised as much as it would be here and it’s more through word of mouth.

Martin:  Well that’s it for the questions. Thank you so much Dawn and Raquel for sharing your pearls of wisdom tonight with our audience. Just to reiterate what I’ve said before, if you’ve got any further questions feel free to email them to HealthTimes or contact CCM Recruitment directly, they are the experts to give you further assistance. Thanks everyone for joining us.

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