Travel Nursing Series: Nursing in Saudi Arabia
- By: Sally Ryan
One of the easiest careers to “take on the road” is that of the health care professional. Physicians and nurses are in demand in every country in the world. Due to globalization, it is now easy for countries to make up for nursing shortages by recruiting workers from other countries. Nursing skills are universal and those of nurses in the United States are among the most advanced. Getting certified to practice in a foreign country, although a bit tedious, is relatively easy. Usually a placement agency can help guide the US nurse through the process.
Some of the best overseas nursing jobs can be found in Saudi Arabia. With a growing economy, Saudi Arabia has a bustling business sector resulting in growth in community support services. Hospitals and health clinics are being built to take care of the increasing demand for health care services of the population. To fill vacant nursing positions the Saudi Arabian medical institutions offer a very enticing package to travel nurses.
While the pay rate for nurses in Saudi Arabia is much higher than that paid in Third World countries, it is somewhat comparable to that paid in Western hospitals, except that is tax free depending on the travel nurses country of origin. US citizens must pay tax on income earned outside the United States. However, most travel nurses receive free or subsidized, fully furnished housing that is shared with another nurse. Usually, even the utility bills are paid by the hospital. It is not possible to house family members in travel nursing housing. Many hospitals are located in compound-like areas with living quarters located nearby. These compounds often have their own swimming pool, work-out areas and other amenities for their residents, much like the US gated communities.
A typical work week in Saudi Arabia is 48 hours with nursing shifts lasting 8 - 12 hours, depending on the staff rotation guidelines of the particular hospital. Overtime pay is usually offered. A generous 4 - 10 week paid vacation based on annual employment is an added benefit. Some hospitals also offer paid holidays and sick leave, free medical insurance, travel allowances, cell phones, and bonuses on completion of the travel nursing contract. You will need to check whether your employer will provide nursing uniforms or whether you will need to pack your uniform scrubs and nursing shoes. Hospitals in Saudi Arabia tend to be new and very large. It is often easy for even the local nurses to get lost in the maze of hospital corridors and wings. Your travelling nurse agency will be able to provide exact specifics for each employer.
An important concern for the travel nurse is the adjustment to local culture, traditions and religion. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country with stringent restrictions on what men and women are allowed to do. Because men are not allowed to care for women and children, nursing positions for men are limited. Women are the preferred caregivers even on a hospital men’s ward. Female travel nurses are expected to wear the traditional abaya when leaving a compound to socialize or go to the local stores, but need not follow the Saudi tradition of walking behind the men.
Men not accompanied by their family are considered bachelors and follow the Saudi customs governing bachelor behavior. There are separate facilities for bachelors and families. It is against the law for a man to be accompanied anywhere by a woman who is not his wife or a family member. This limits social activities for the male travel nurse.
A woman not accompanied by her husband or family is considered single and will be admitted to family facilities but never to the bachelor facilities. It is against the law for a single woman to be accompanied by a man who is not her husband or a family member and punishment for this offense is worse for the woman than for a bachelor. In order to create a social life, a foreign woman and her male friend often claim to be married in order to mingle freely in Saudi society, although if caught, the consequences can be harsh.
Travel in Saudi Arabian cities is best accomplished by means of taxis and fares within the larger cities are standardized. Flying is the preferred method of long-distance and travel and fares are reasonably priced. Buses are available, but slow, with many bus stations being located outside of the city. Cars are available for rent but travel in the modern highway system is dangerous, at best. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest accident rates in the world. Being involved in an accident is a time consuming process as those involved are not allowed to leave the scene of the accident until the usually non English speaking Traffic Police arrive several hours later. Accident paper work is time consuming and car repairs cannot be done until an official report is issued.
One of the easiest ways to run afoul of Islamic law is by taking pictures. Strict Wahhabi beliefs prohibit creating images of living beings so it is imperative that you ask permission to take photos of Saudi men. It is absolutely forbidden to take pictures of Saudi women. The government is sensitive to having pictures taken of government related facilities so it is best to concentrate your photographic efforts on the scenery.
Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel regulations in the world and if you are considering a position as a travel nurse here it is best to be thoroughly versed in local law and customs before making a commitment. That being said, if you are an adventurer looking to experience life in an Islamic country Saudi Arabia is an excellent location and will certainly provide many unique experiences. So grab your uniform scrubs, nursing shoes, stethoscope and travel gear and head off to a new adventure of travel in Saudi Arabia.
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