A Finnish Nurse in Riyadh
Why did you decide to work in Saudi Arabia?
I was first planning to apply to Australia, but after discussing the options with Lynsey at Professional Connections (Profco) she convinced me that Saudi Arabia was the best choice for me. The process needed to get in here is considerably easier and faster. Also the pay and the amount of holiday made were tempting factors.
Could you tell something about the recruiting process?
The process was very fluent on behalf of Profco. Everyone helped during the process a lot and there was no pointless waiting. It all went pretty fast.
Was KFSH what you expected?
I went to King Faisal Special Hospital open mindedly to gain more experience. I knew already about the country, and I knew that the hospital is good. Before leaving I set myself a goal of experiencing as much as possible rather than getting forward on my career.
Could you tell something about the meet & greet?
We met some other new nurses already at the luggage pick-up point, which was nice. After getting our luggage, there was someone waiting for us with a sign. KFSH has an office at the airport where they gave us the keys to our apartments. After that we were all taken to our compounds with a minibus. Everything was taken care of well and the apartments were fully furnished. They included all the bedclothes and even food to get started. This made the start very pleasing, and made me happy. I could see right away that there would be nothing to worry about
What is the location of the Compound like?
Me and my friend live in the D-complex, which is the furthest away from the hospital (on the other side of the road). There is a tunnel that goes under the road and makes walking to work very easy. There is also a transportation provided if one prefers going there by car. What I like the most is that the complex is located outside the hospital area and I will not see the workplace as soon as I walk outside. The complex is at the back corner of MCV (medical city village) area, which is very liberal area and allows us to move around freely dressed as we want. There is a shop, and mall right next the compound. We have spacious rooms with our own washing machine and dryer.
Some think one has to wear Abaya all the time. Could you tell when it is necessary to wear it and when not?
Basically inside the hospital area and the compounds one can wear their own clothes as long as they are appropriate. Inside the hospital it is not appropriate to walk around in tight clothes. If I wear my own clothes there, I usually use some kind of a shirt and loose pants. Usually a shirt that covers at least one's shoulders and a long skirt is a good option! There are also some specific places where one can go to not wearing the Abaya. For example in the Intercontinental hotel there is a really nice restaurant where women can arrive in their own clothes. Other than these places it is Abaya that one should wear. I personally don't mind it though. At least I don't need to think what to wear! It is also not as hot as one could think and quite comfortable in these weather conditions.
What could you tell about the General Nursing Orientation?
The orientation was good. First we were given clear instructions on when to be at the hospital and where in the hospital to be. First there was a general orientation where we were told about the services of the hospital, the compounds, and about how everything works. After that the GNO started. It concentrated more on the units and what the work could be like. There were few lectures and then a small test. Depending on the unit there might be separate tests to be done before one is allowed to the actual unit. I work in the ICU and the test was a bit challenging but I survived well!
How well are the nursing documents computerized?
The documents are going to the electronic format more and more as the time goes by. We have a good information system and most of the documents are on the computers. Some things, such as vital functions, have to be written down by hand.
How do you communicate with the patients? Do they speak English?
Most of the patients don't speak English very well. Though, they usually have some relatives with them that might speak English better. Also the Arabic speaking doctors can translate the conversations. Some cases can be dealt with by imitating. One will become a master at that! There are also courses provided outside work to study Arabic for the ones who are interested.
How can you deal with working with 63 different nationalities and all the different cultures?
I think it depends a lot about the person. First it was a bit hard to get myself understood to the colleagues and soon I learnt to speak slowly and articulate clearly. I got used to all of this pretty fast and everything started going well soon. In my opinion it is a good experience to work with a lot of different people. Our ward has a great, open atmosphere where there are no groups of people speaking only to their compatriots. I find this really important.
Do you work a lot overtime?
I have not worked overtime yet at all. The average working time per week is 44 hours, which is about 10 hours more than in Finland. I rather have just kept my free days as free and not do overtime. Though I know a lot of people who work a lot of overtime due to the large bonuses. The shifts are 12 hour long and work as in A&B team system. I am in the A team and for example this week I work only Tuesday and Wednesday and next week the days I did not work this week. So every other week there are two days of work and every other week there are five days of work. The shifts also vary between day and night.
Many go to Middle East to earn money. Do you earn more than you did in Finland?
In Finland I worked a lot on weekends and at night, so I got a lot of bonuses. That's why the salary is not that much bigger here. But because the salary is tax free and the housing is provided, there is in the end more money left to spend, or save. I personally use quite a bit of money on traveling and shopping. Before coming here I created a list of things I wanted to buy and now that I have achieved most of them I can start saving. I know many people who save money to pay off loans or to travel.
We know there are great shopping malls in Riyadh. Which one of them is your favorite and why?
There are a lot of different malls for different needs. Some have only expensive luxury brands while the others have normal clothes and stuff. My favorite depends on what I am looking for. Kingdom Tower Mall is a place with slightly more expensive brands and a place where I have spent most of my money. There is also a really nice mall close to the hospital called Panorama Mall. It is very enjoyable and has good stores.
Has Riyadh been the right choice for you?
At the moment I feel that this place has suited my life's situation well. I have been happy with the place. The country and all the strange things happening here, such as everything closing during prayers, might take some time to get used to but I have learned to cope with them well. Sometimes the work feels a bit tough, but I feel this is totally worth it. I also know people who have completely fell in love with the place and find everything as amazing.
What can you do on your spare time?
There are a lot of tennis courts around the hospital and there are many gyms. Sometimes there are different classes at the gyms but I enjoy working out by myself at one of the gyms. People also organize desert walks but they are somewhat secret as women and men usually hang out together there. These trips are not advertised widely, you just have to know the people involved.
What is the food like in Riyadh?
There are a nice, wide range of restaurants in the city. In the malls there are (just like in America) food courts with a selection of popular, cheap, fast food restaurants. One can also find expensive high-end restaurants and everything in between these two! I was positively surprised how well the supermarkets are equipped when it comes to gluten free and organic food. There is a wide range of food for vegetarians in the bigger stores. Everyone will certainly find something to eat here!
Could you tell something about the Finnish community in Riyadh and in the hospital?
I think there are a lot of Finns in here. Some have stayed longer and some have been here in few different occasions. It is easy to find social contacts and I find it nice to be able to talk to someone on your native language about your problems. It helps to cope with living away from home. I am personally very lucky to have my good friend with me here. I can always share my experience with her and she will listen. The Finns organize gatherings sometimes at one of the pool areas with everyone bringing some snacks. Usually, though, people hang out with their own friends and I don't mind where the people I hang out with are from, as long as they are my type of people.
There are people who think women can't go anywhere alone in Saudi Arabia. Could you say something about this?
There are places where one should not go alone, especially at night. But it is the same with every place in the world. As long as you are careful and keep common sense with you there is nothing to be afraid of. I often go shopping to malls or grocery stores alone and nothing ever happened. When I move alone I usually use the taxis provided by the hospital, but when I move with friends, we might use the white taxis as well. I feel like there is no reason to be afraid to move around here.
Would you have any tips for a nurse who is packing before leaving to Riyadh?
The houses have everything provided, even towels. However, I would take something with me that makes me feel cozy and happy. I would also pack at least one warm shirt and pants as it will also get quite chilly in here! I only packed one bag before leaving here. After all, one is going to buy plenty of items from here as there are everything you might need. If there is a chance, it would be good to have an Abaya ready. At least I found it useful to have in advance. Though one can buy it here almost immediately after arriving.
Any tips for a person wondering whether or not to leave to Riyadh?
I would advise everyone to apply here! It is an experience worth living! I would, however prepare to miss home at some point. Year is a short time and everyone will survive it though. This has been a great experience and you'll never know if you'll be one of those who fall in love with the place and want to stay longer. As far as the holidays are concerned I would advise anyone not to travel back home on first possible chance as this might make it harder to come back. What I would do, is to book a holiday somewhere you have always dreamt of visiting. This will make coming back to Saudi Arabia easier and staying here more pleasant. I, for example, have visited France, Thailand and am planning to go to Bali. All this during only seven months! The 54 days of holiday is something else.