Many revere the medical field, and admire the individuals that are courageous enough to enter that difficult line of work. Yet, the same admiration is not often directed to female doctors. Some would even go as far as to say that the medical field was not made for women, due to the study and workload it commands. Such convictions have not stopped women from excelling in this field, and the number of women enrolling in this field has only increased over the past few years. Dr. Sara Buhmaid is one of the Qatari pioneers in this field, whose dedication and hard work prove to young girls everywhere that they can flourish in the medical field as well. So, who is Dr. Sara Buhmaid?
A woman, a human. My academic background started when is I went to the International School of Choueifat in Doha, Qatar. I got my medical degree from Weill Cornel Medical College. During my time in Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, I sensed that one has to go abroad to improve and gain new perspectives. I remember telling my father that if he would not allow me to complete my training abroad that he should tell me before I begin my studies because I wanted to enter this field on my terms. He told me not to worry about it and that he would encourage me to get my training aboard once I got accepted. By 2012, I was accepted into a training program specializing in obstetrics and gynecology in the United States. In 2016, I finished my training, later I obtained my American Board in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and started working at Sidra Medical and Research Center.
Have you always known you wanted to study medicine?
I actually did not! I realized that this is what I want to do during medical school. During high school, I did not know in which major I wanted to specialize. I did not know how I wanted my life to look like in ten years, I only knew that I could perform well academically. So at that point, I decided to apply to most of the universities in Education City, in addition to some universities outside of Qatar. So, when I received my university acceptance, my father told me that since you were able to get into medical school why don’t you try giving it a chance? He mentioned that my grandfather always hoped my father would become a doctor someday, but he became an engineer, so maybe I could fulfill my grandfather’s wish of having a doctor in the family. As the first-born daughter, I always feel the urge to please my parents, and so I went to medical school based on my parents’ recommendation. During medical school, I continued doing what I was programmed to do best during my years at Choeuifat, and that is performing well academically. Once I entered the clinical sphere and started seeing patients and being part of the medical staff, that is the moment when I realized that I wanted to be here and to become a doctor. It is an exhausting line of work, but I return home happy, satisfied, and looking forward to another day of hard work. It only became clear to me that I made the right decision in retrospect.
What made you specialize in Obstetrics and Gynecology?
This is also another case of knowing what I didn’t want to study. Whenever someone asked me if I was leaning towards any specific specialty, I would always say “I don’t know what I want to do, but I know what I don’t want.” For example, I knew I didn’t want to get into Internal Medicine, but at the time I also thought I didn’t want to study Obstetrics and Gynecology. However, once we did our general surgery rotation during our training, it became very apparent to me that this was the field for me. I also realized how important the connection doctors make with their patients, and how empowering it can be for the patient. Furthermore, Obstetrics and Gynecology has a surgery component that intrigues me, and I liked the idea that the patients that cross your path will be your patients for life as you’ll be the one that delivers their firstborn, their second born etc. Within that doctor-patient relationship, there is a big opportunity for empowerment and education that we lack in our culture and school curriculum.
In what way do you find the doctor-patient relationship empowering?
In general, knowledge is power. When patients come in asking about the cause for certain symptoms they are experiencing, or if they are unaware of the different options that they can take, just the simple fact that I am able to help or educate someone about their body is empowering. When a woman comes in with minimal knowledge about her own body, and you are able to provide her with all the information she needs and all the options she can take, you are giving her the chance to take ownership of her own body. Once you give a woman the information she needs, she tends to walk out of the hospital more empowered. Sometimes it can be as simple as letting a woman know the different types of contraceptives she can take, and that there isn’t just one way to do something, and that they have the right to choose in which direction they would like to proceed. Having that right to making decisions over your own body is in itself empowering. In Qatar, there are people from all sort of backgrounds and luckily, I was raised in a very sheltered but privileged household. Not many people share a similar upbringing, and I believe that one must take responsibility for the privilege given to him/her and make something of it. In some ways, I feel like becoming a doctor is my way of taking ownership of my privilege and giving back to my community. Your background also tends to create a bubble around you where you end up surrounding yourself with people who are of a similar upbringing, whether it is during school, university etc. For example, in Choueifat, I was surrounded by people whose families could afford to send them to a private school.
How would you describe your experience at Sidra Medical and Research center?
After I finished my residency, I first started working at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). I think of myself as a flexible person, and when given a good reason, I am happy to change or adapt my ways of practicing medicine. During the one month I spent at Women’s Hospital, I felt like I was stuck out as the woman who asks a lot of questions, and at some point, one of the doctors called me an “Alpha Female” because I was opinionated and outspoken. Perhaps in their view, my actions translated as me being bossy, or aggressive, and I felt that it was not an environment into which I could easily integrate. As such, I decided to work at Sidra after completing my training. At Sidra, most of the medical staff are foreign-trained, which is a similar training to what I had, and I felt that it would be a smoother transition into the workplace for me. So far it has been a good experience for me. To be clear, there are still differences in the methods we choose to operate, for example, a doctor who was trained in Germany might do something different from the doctor trained in the US, but we’re able to function together well. It has also made my experience more enriching to observe how doctors from different training backgrounds function. It is also great for the patients because I love letting them know about the different paths they can take depending on the doctor with whom they choose to work. This also gives my work more integrity because it shows the patient that my way of practicing medicine isn’t the only one, and whatever the patient prefers is what we will proceed with, granted that it is safe. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t right or wrong, the medical world is built on science after all, it just means that there is more than one way to do something.
Did you face any obstacles in your journey?
Many! When I first decided to study medicine, the only people who supported me were my parents and my paternal grandfather, everyone else would tell me things like “why would you do this?, you’re going to waste your life”, “you’re going to spend all your time studying and you’ll never finish.” So, within my own family I faced a lot of obstacles. To be completely honest, I also faced certain obstacles within the education system itself. There tends to be a certain prejudice towards Qatari students, for example the number of Qatari students who graduated from high school with me can be counted on one hand, the rest were all non-Qataris. Even once I started studying at Cornell, I was one of two Qatari students in my class. At the time I wasn’t very conscious of this because I came from an international school where I was surrounded by classmates of different backgrounds, but now I am aware of the microaggressions that were in my path. For example, the teachers or the students do not expect you to perform as well as others do, or they would not pick you to lead certain things maybe because they assumed Qatari students did not want or are incapable of taking responsibility. No one will say it to your face, but you can tell when someone has these predisposed notions of who you are. Furthermore, some people believe all Qataris have it easy. In my case, I was able to get an automatic scholarship to study in Cornell, because I believe at the time any Qatari who was interested in studying medicine got one, and I acknowledge that this is a privilege, but it does not diminish the hard work I put in to be accepted into Cornell and the hard work it took to progress in my career. Even when I went to train in the United States, I faced some microaggressions. To be fair, I did not experience frank and overt racism that some of my colleagues did. But it is as if I was a minority in both my country and outside it. I also face similar experiences in Sidra. First of all, when I started I was one of their youngest consultants, so I was viewed as inexperienced. Secondly, I am Qatari, so they assume I have it easy which is something I’ve heard over and over, that people are surprised when they see a hard-working Qatari.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
There is no limit. You can do whatever you want. Even the social barriers cannot, and should not, limit you as a woman. If you truly value yourself and your achievements, you should understand that you can do anything you want. Just be stubborn and hardheaded about your goals, and as long as you’re not hurting others and you serve a greater good, it will happen.
- Interview written by Al Jawhara Al Thani.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.