Arab Region Nursing Programs Attract More Males

Anayat Durrani

It was his mother's wish that Omani national Salim Khamis Al Muqbali pursue a career in nursing, calling it a "noble career option." Traditionally regarded as a female profession, the field is seeing an influx of Arab men who view nursing as a rewarding and promising career route.

"It is a career that allows you to help save people's lives, bring cheer and comfort to those in need," says Al Muqbali, who works as a staff nurse in a hospital under the Ministry of Health in Oman.

Al Muqbali has a nursing diploma from the Oman Nursing Institute and is in the bridging program at the University of Sharjah in neighboring United Arab Emirates. The program is for working students who have a diploma in nursing and leads to a two-year Bachelor of Science in nursing. The school also offers a regular four-year bachelor's in nursing.

"Nursing in the Arab world is still developing and is not seen as a profession that would have a bright future," says Emirati national Majid Salim Alhammadi, a recent University of Sharjah bachelor's nursing grad who is a graduate nurse intern at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi.

But male nurses are trying to change that. Alhammadi, who says he is the first male Emirati nurse, served as emcee and spoke at an international nursing conference hoping to attract more males to the profession. The conference was organized by SEHA, the regulatory health authority of Abu Dhabi.

[Learn how Arab region universities are working to educate more nurses.]

"Nursing is not a profession only for young women," said Nancy Hoffart, founding dean and professor at the Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing at Lebanese American University, in an email. "There are great career opportunities for young men who are interested in life sciences."

Hoffart says 40 percent of LAU's nursing students are male.

It was chance that led Palestinian Mohammed Hussein into the nursing program at LAU. When applying, he was unsure about what to major in and chose several majors on his application. A week later he received a phone call from the school congratulating him on his acceptance into the nursing program.

"I felt it was meant for me," says Hussein, despite being told by family and friends to change his major. "I felt I was chosen to become a nurse."

Hussein says LAU's student nursing club has sought to shed a positive light on the profession in general, and students have gone on live Lebanese TV to talk about nursing. He believes this has helped bring more males to the profession.

[Learn how public health degrees can open doors for Arab region students.]

Husain Nasaif, a lecturer in nursing at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland - Bahrain, says the ratio of male to female students "has increased in Bahrain in our school in particular over the last 10 years." He says it is due to better job opportunities and more scholarships from the government and other sponsoring agencies.

"Many male nurses work in different hospitals in Bahrain," Nasaif says, adding that about 40 percent of male and female nurses in Bahrain come from the Philippines, India and other Arab countries, based on statistics from the Ministry of Health.

[Explore how Arab region universities are offering more medical education options.]

"Here in UAE they prefer female nurses but the issue here now is there is a language barrier. Most of the nurses here are from the Philippines and India," says Jordanian national Ala'a Ahmed, who is a clinical quality coordinator at a hospital in the UAE and says he has 13 years of experience working as a nurse in Jordan and the UAE. He received his bachelor's in nursing from the University of Mosul in Iraq in 2002, choosing to study there for its free educational opportunities for Arab students under the late Saddam Hussein.

Ahmed says because of the nurse shortage and the need for Arabic speakers, males are closing the gap, despite cultural reasons that often restrict a male nurse to only treating male patients.

"A lot of hospitals prefer female nurses but because there is no Arabic skills, they take us (male nurses) with the advantage of speaking Arabic," says Ahmed.

Nabeel Al-Yateem, an assistant professor in the nursing department at the University of Sharjah, says students like Ahmed study abroad because studying in Jordan is "too expensive and the seats are limited." He says students travel to countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Libya for cheaper options and scholarships.

Muayyad Ahmad, a professor in the clinical nursing department at the University of Jordan, says Jordan has had to limit the number of males entering the profession, keeping in mind that female nurses can treat patients of both genders.

"Between the years 2000 and 2008, the number of male nursing students was at least double females," he said, via email. "Policy makers in Jordan took an action to force the universities not to accept more than 30% males in each enrollment. In the past five years, a balance occurred, and the ratio of males to females is around 1:3 in nursing schools."

University of Mosul grad Ahmed, who also has a 2014 master's degree in quality management from the University of Wollongong in Dubai, hopes to return to Jordan to improve health care in the public sector, particularly in terms of quality and patient safety.

After completing his bachelor's degree from the University of Sharjah, Al Muqbali plans to return to Oman to work in his hometown. And, to make his mom proud.

"I enjoy helping people and want to make a meaningful contribution to society," says Al Muqbali. "The nursing career is very gratifying and rewarding."

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Anayat Durrani is a Los Angeles-based freelance education reporter for U.S. News, covering Arab region universities.