My new life in Saudi Arabia at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh
My name is Vivian and I am Irish. I started working as a Nursing Supervisor at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in November 2014. Contact the agency who placed me if you are interested to work at KFSH & RC. www.profco.com
So, after all the months of paperwork and verifying nursing documents, planning your life and your move and reading up on and asking friends/acquaintances who have worked in Saudi previously, the day finally arrives for you to fly off to distant lands and in my case, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
As I had only finished my final shift in work two days before I flew, it was such a hectic last month for me finalizing the house packing on my days off and ensuring that my two young, but adult children, were settling into their new places to live and their new part-time jobs too. There was also nights out, (held in my honour), from work colleagues and friends and also to host a farewell party, in my home, too, for friends and neighbors.
I decided, since it is a long flight to Riyadh and it was an overnight flight, that I needed a relaxing time by myself, in a hotel at the airport, the night before the flight. This would help ensure that I was physically rested and emotionally prepared for this huge adventure ahead of me.
The flight, via Ethiad Airlines, Dublin to Abu Dhabi, was very pleasant and uneventful. They are strict on luggage weight and only allow the exact amount and will charge, per kg, overweight, after that. You can send a box of bits and pieces ahead of you to the hospital if you wish (I didn't do that, so I can't advise on the cost, or how long it takes to arrive). I had a four hour wait in Abu Dhabi Airport, before the one hour connecting flight to Riyadh. While in Abu Dhabi I decided to put on my Abaya. That way I would get used to wearing it and I would have it on already for when I arrived in Riyadh Airport. You don't have to arrive wearing one but you blend in better if you do. I was fortunate that a work colleague gave me the one she used to wear when she was here (they can be bought, in a shop near the South Circular Road in Dublin, if you need to get one before you go). Once here, there is an Abaya shop near the hospital and they average in price between 30 euro upwards).
I was meet at the airport at customs by a hospital representative, who has his office at the airport. So immediately I felt I was expected and all would be well. Once through customs, which was non eventful, I made my way to collect my bags from the carousal. The hospital representative escorted me then, to arrivals, where a lovely Scottish Nurse meet me and made me feel so welcome too. We collected my apartment key from the hospital representative and then we both got into the hospital Taxi (provided to hospital staff, free of charge, to the airport).
This Scottish nurse and I chatted away in the taxi, for the 20 minute journey, about her experience here for the past 5 years and how different it is here but that I should still enjoy it all. I was approx. 18 hours up at this stage and I was tired and hungry but I was also so excited to be here, at last, that I got a second lease of life. She took me then to my apartment. I was so impressed. It felt like a home from home immediately. I loved the space I have in it and it was so clean and modern, with all appliances. Then she took me to the hospital, it is so huge, to meet my new manager and other key staff members in Nursing Administration. After that we went back to her apartment for a cup of tea and to use her SKYPE , to reassure my family that I had arrived here safely and all was well.
Once back in my own apartment, a while later, I unpacked and happily fell into bed, tired but contented that I was now here and I felt happy from the genuine welcome I had received, from all I had meet, since my arrival..........and so my adventure here in Saudi begins........
My Apartment and living accommodation:
As I am in a management position and will also do night duty, I have an apartment to myself. It is such a lovely spacious, modern, living space. It was instantly a place I could call home. I have two balconies, which overlook the city and it's many high landmarks on the city scape. It is fully stocked with pots and pans, cups, plates and cutlery etc. A courtesy selection of groceries are provided to get you through the first few days here. There is a nice flat screen TV also, with free channels for the first month, to allow you to consider your selection, from then on you will pay a small monthly subscription. Bed linen and blankets are also provided. A washing machine and a dryer is also provided in my apartment. Some apartments, for staff nurses, are shared, with two per apartment. These are also fully supplied with appliances but will share a communal laundry facility. There are several apartment blocks here built several decades ago. As the hospital requirement for staff has expanded since then, a new block is currently being built and the old housing complex will soon be demolished. There is outdoor swimming pools with each complex and there are of a holiday resort standard, if not even above. There is also a fully equipped gym attached to my complex with a full time female instructor who is very helpful and skilled. There are various classes you can attend here, for a small fee, from Spining, Zumba, Pilates and Yoga as well as Personalised training if you wish. The apartments are for single females only. Any married staff will live in the DQ (Diplomatic Quarter). The Embassy's are located here and this is where families are housed. It is about a 20 minute (free hospital transport provided to employees) away from the hospital. It is a dusty climate here, as Riyadh is in the middle of the desert (and with all the building going on currently) so your apartment will be dusty (more than you are used to). A cleaner can be arranged, at a reasonable price, through the Housekeeping Supervisor. Your electricity, bins, air conditioner and water are all free, as is your apartment.
I was fortunate to arrive at the end of November, so the weather was very suitable for me, being around 18 degrees and 22 degrees during the day. Warm, dry and sunny. The temperatures will gradually raise from mid-February, to their peek by September, to up to 50 degrees. It does rain here, especially this time of year, with heavy downpours and floods everywhere for the few hours afterwards.
Regarding clothing to pack, bring light tops and long skirts/trousers and light jumpers etc. as it can get chilly in the evenings from Nov to Feb. Footwear can be sandals, flip flops and light shoes. If you like going on treks, bring hiking boots too (as the Social club do organise desert walks and overnight camping too) and bring runners for the Gym.
Clothing and culture for men and women here - Saudi and Non-Saudi:
By custom, culture and for religious reasons, the women here wear the black Abaya and also cover their heads. Covering their faces is more for cultural reasons and personal preference, rather than religious reasons. Some women will keep their eyes only visible, others will choose to cover their full face and head, so no facial features are visible at all. So non Saudi women are also expected to wear the black Abaya and will be requested to cover their heads, when deemed necessary in public (so always bring with you, the head scarf, which is supplied when you buy your Abaya). There are separate queues for men and women for all public places/services and also separate waiting areas. In some other places like a café there are men only sitting areas and then family areas where single women can also sit. Only men for now, (it's under discussion) can drive here. It's very dangerous to even cross the road, even at traffic lights, so do be careful. A metro is being built that will be open for use to both men and women and will be completed and in use by 2017. This will be the only form of public transport available as currently there is none. Men mostly wear their white shift long dress with either their white and red scarf head dress or a plain white one. There is no difference between either head dress, again it's just a matter of personal preference. While in the hospital wearing your uniform is sufficient while on duty and adhering to the uniform policy. Around the compound, wearing the white jacket, you are supplied with when you get your free uniforms, is also sufficient. On your day off around the compound you can wear your Abaya over your clothes if you prefer, or you can wear your normal clothes, once they cover your neck, arms and legs and are not too figure hugging. Be aware that you do not extend your hand to shake the hand of a Saudi man, unless he offers you his hand first.
The hospital grounds are currently under reconstruction. There is a new hospital extension due to open by mid-2015 (it is fully built now, but is being fitted inside with the necessary equipment etc.). To facilitate this new extension, a lot of the walk ways within the compound are currently being redesigned, so it doesn't look it's best just now. But the future plans, when complete, will more than make up for all of this. There is a grocery shop in the compound that will supply your grocery needs (once you settle in and get your bearings you will go to the other huge grocery stores outside the compound for your big grocery shop, as it's cheaper there such as Danube, Hyperpanda food market and Tamini) but for quick small supplies, this store will suffice. There is also a small gift shop for last minute trinkets to bring home, a chemist for cosmetic bits and pieces and a small nail bar for those essential manicure/pedicures and a wash and blow dry (inside the hospital there is a larger beauticians, but I haven't tried it so I can't say for sure how it will be there). There is a shop for plug adapters and other electrical appliances on the compound, also a tech shop for new mobile phones and ipads etc. There is even a good jeweller here who will design a ring etc. for you and you can pay it off in instalments that suit you and then bring it home with you when fully paid off. Then there is a shop with all sorts of bits and pieces with a very helpful shop owner. Also a small clothes shop, with minimum selection and a rug shop too. Then there is a restaurant here for casual dining for salads and hot food and another section that does Pizza and Quid-n-Sub Sandwiches. Most importantly there is a Dunkin donuts with their coffee too and a milkshake and ice-cream counter. So, within the compound for the first weeks, there is more than enough to explore and find your supplies too. There are also tennis courts, a family swimming pool and this is also open to single females too at designated times. There is a park area in the compound too, for families and single females, to have Bar-B-Ques and relax there. Beside the park is a take-away restaurant.
The Social Club:
The social club here are more than just a club providing social outlets and information. They are responsible for your TV channel supply, your SIM card supply for your mobile phone while here and your internet in your apartment. All these are vital to keep you connected to home and a visit to their building is vital within the first 24 hours of getting here to get this process started. They do also provide social outings and gatherings for staff and they publish their program on these activities on the hospital Info Gate site and on flyers too. They do trips into the desert for walking treks and scenery and also overnight camping in the desert too, in fully equipped tents. There is a small fee for annual membership and you will get a membership card which will give you some discount in places for products and services.
The first week:
If you arrive as part of a large group you will all be meet together and transported by hospital bus and brought to your apartments too. You will be part of what's called "GNO" General Nursing Orientation. This involves a guided tour of the huge hospital to get your bearings and a week of classes on hospital policies and practices and their computer system. You will also be shown around the compound too. This is the time to get your internet connection sorted in your apartment and your SIM card too, via the social club and your TV connection. This is a full on busy week, as you make sense of your new surroundings and your new life and expectations. You will go to security and have your photo taken for your ID badge too and be issued with your ID number (which you need to memorise as you will use it often). You will be brought out also, as a group, to a restaurant, so you can see and feel what life is like outside the compound. This is the time to make friends that will last, often for life. You will be fitted for and given uniforms, free of cost within this week. These uniforms are laundered free also. Your second week will be on your Unit placement with orientation from your preceptor. You are on probation for the first 90 days and don't have permission (except for an emergency) to leave Saudi, until after this spell is served.
The hospital is huge and is an amazing building. The "North Tower" is on one end and a corridor runs from there, the full length of the hospital, for about 1 km long, to a meeting area called the" Red Carpet". These two points are important as they form the main areas to get your bearings from. The hospital is JCI Accredited (for their standards of patient care and safety) and now it also has the Magnet Award (for staff recruitment and retention). All patient care is totally patient focused and all staff strive for this, no matter what their role is, in the hospital. There are about 40 Units open in the hospital (some with specialities) and many other scientific departments and Out Patients and an Emergency Department too. Each ward has a Head Nurse and an Assistant Head Nurse and a Charge Nurse too. The patient ratio on average is 1 nurse to 3 to 4 patients, depending on the Unit, 1:1 in Intensive Care and Neo-Nates. There is also a Care Assistant and a Porter and a Ward Clerk on each day shift. Approx 5 Units make up a Division and each Division then has a Program Director. All patient charts and medications are recorded on a computer system. English is the spoken language of the hospital between staff. It is appreciated if you can learn some basic Arabic so you can interact with patients, interpreters are available. Most patients will have a family member stay with them or a "sitter". Male and female patients tend not to be mixed. There are a few StarBucks coffee outlets in the hospital. Hot food for your dinner, is available, in the Canteen, for a subsidised price and is very tasty too, with plenty of variety. You will need to enrol for your BLS too during your first week here unless the one you currently hold does not expire within the next 6 months.
Payment and the Bank:
You may receive your settling in allowance and your first weeks wages within 10 days of your arrival. Your next full months' salary will be in line with the main salary day of the hospital, usually towards the end of the month. There is a Bank within the hospital, which makes cashing your cheque easier. You will have your ID badge by then, which is also needed for the process of cashing your cheque. You can't open a Bank Account or send money home until you have your Iqama (this usually takes about a month to six weeks). These will be applied for during your second week here and will all be explained to you during your GNO week. Riyals are difficult to get in banks at home, so exchange your Euros for Dollars and then in the airport you will get some Riyals and the rest of your Dollars can be exchanged for more Riyals in the hospital bank when you arrive. Bring about a minimum of 1,000 euro to get you through your first few weeks here.
Your Iqama and Saudi Council Registration:
You will be instructed on how to apply for your Iqama during your first week here. It cost approx. 80 euro to process and takes about a month to be processed. As mentioned above you need this to open a Bank account and to have free movement outside of Saudi for your holidays etc. It is also needed to apply for your Saudi Council Registration. This is the license under which you will practise your nursing skills while here. This costs approx. 200 euro to process and takes about the three months, the time of your probation, to be complete. You will also need the documents that your agency advised you to have ready and to bring with you, for this very important and final process.
Going out and about locally:
As mentioned above, you will need to wear your Abaya on you (and bring your headscarf with you) when you leave the compound. It is advisable that you book a taxi, known by and used by friends, so that you have a trustworthy taxi driver. Don't hail a taxi from a curb, it is not safe. Women are not allowed to travel in a taxi with a single man (unless he is the taxi driver). Only 3 females per taxi, in the back seat and the front seat is not allowed to be occupied by a female. Taxi's are cheap, approx. 6 euro each from the hospital to town. There is no public transport at all in the city (until the Metro will be ready in 2017). Eating out in restaurants is reasonably priced and all tastes are catered for from American style dining or take-aways to Turkish, Indian, Chinese and European style too. Again as a single female you will sit with families, as single males eat separately. Often, in restaurants, family areas will be in booths, with a shutter or curtain so that the wife/single female can remove her face covering when she eats and still have privacy.
Shopping, shopping and more shopping:
There are huge, amazing shopping Malls here in Riyadh, with every type of top designer you can think of. There are very expensive malls, your middle of the road and normal priced malls and then the Souks (cheap but fun markets). So everyone's taste in buying clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery and gifts will be more than satisfied. Malls remain open until 11pm at night. Café and sandwich places are plentiful within them, with delicious cakes too. Again segregation of single males from families and single females, is present in these cafes. In these malls there are also Female only levels where fancy underwear can be bought and here you will also find beauticians for massages, hairdressers, manicures and pedicures among their catalogue of many services. Many Saudi women wear fabulous designer clothes under their Abaya's that only their husbands and families see. However their handbags and shoes are seen by all so they also invest a lot of money in these as this is how they express their personality in public, along with their finely manicured nails and expensive jewellery.
Prayer times are five times a day. You will hear the call to prayer, at these times, as they are broadcast over the city, via a loudspeaker system. The times of prayer depend on the light and star arrangement, which vary seasonally. The first one is usually around 5am and the last one around 6pm with 3 other times in between during the day. If you are in a shop or restaurant during prayer time, you may remain inside, but all service to you, for that prayer time, will be suspended. Prayers take from 15 minutes to 30 minutes, depending on which prayer time of the day it is. Their religious feasts Ramadam and Haj are also during the year, depending on the moon and other solar arrangements. Preparation for these feasts involve hours of fasting during sunrise and sunset for weeks and after the due time is served, it ends in a big celebration for families.
Making friends when here in Saudi, is key to survival. You will make friends during your GNO week and many of these will remain close to you during your time here and maybe for many years after too. It is advisable to also expand your circle too, to include not only your immediate work colleagues but others in other departments, from all nationalities. This will ensure that you benefit from the multi-cultural richness that you will be surrounded by and not get lonely or isolated. Networking is important for having fun.
The Embassy's are located in the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ). This is also the hub of socialising for us Ex-pats here. It is possible to be invited to another nationality Embassy through your contacts and friends here and therefore you can enjoy a wider circle to socialise with. The Embassy's organise varies activities from outings to parties that will make your time here more enjoyable. These events are mixed and socialising is permitted, as per at home. Bring your party dresses and sparkly sandles in your suitcase, as you will surely get to wear them to these events.
Planning to travel:
Being located in Saudi allows you the vantage point to visit and holiday in many interesting places that can be easily reached from here. They are too many to mention and as tastes in vacation places vary, please do Google to ensure you don't miss out on the place you always wanted to visit, because now you can.
These are my subjective experiences and thoughts after just one month here. I'm sure I will have more to add to this over the next few months as my exposure here, both in and out of work, broadens. I can update you in approx. 6 months with more information, if you think this will be of benefit to yourself and to new comers alike.