17 April 2015

Another side of Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)—At 2 a.m. the morning after my arrival, Saudi Arabia’s health minister, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, was removed from office by King Abdullah for claiming he did not know why the number of people with MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) was increasing, thereby admitting he had been unable to address the problem. 

The unfortunate turn of events for al-Rabeeah meant I was one of the first people to meet his interim replacement, His Excellence Acting Minister for Health Adel Faqih, Saudi Arabia’s labor minister, who now serves in both roles. Faqih presented me, later that morning, with my “hadyyah” (gift) for presenting at The Second International Health Specialties Conference in Riyadh, KSA, sponsored by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties.

Apparently some folk
think I'm OK! 
(Click photo to read text.)
According to colleagues here, the sacked minister, an engineer by background, was popular and had made a good impression on my nursing colleagues, some of whom met him. However, politics is politics the world over, and, frankly, honesty does not pay if you wish to keep your job.

International conference
My paper at the conference was on the difference ethics can make to health care, but I also gave a preconference workshop to 150 nurses and physicians on getting papers published. Among the attendees was my former PhD student, Mansout Alyami, who works at the Ministry for Health. The workshop was the most popular of the two sessions, with an additional 150 people being turned away.

This was especially surprising as I was competing for participants with such luminaries as Geoff Norman, PhD, of McMaster University who, I now realise, is one of the world’s foremost experts on medical education. I was very pleased to get to know Norman over the course of the conference, and his presentation on myths in medical education reinforced many of the things I had long held doubts about, such as learning styles, self-assessment, high-fidelity simulation (essentially a waste of money), and the predictive value of multiple-choice tests (turns out they’re pretty good). Norman, who backs all this up with evidence, has already sent me his portfolio of research papers and reviews on these issues.

After three days in the oppressive heat, oppressive atmosphere (especially for women), and dry dust of Riyadh, I flew to Jeddah on the coast to participate in a scientific forum at Fakeeh College of Nursing & Medical Sciences, where I presented three papers over two days. Another former PhD student, Wafaa Aljohani, who is a faculty member at the school, facilitated my visit. I also met former PhD student Samira Alsenany, who works at King AbdulAziz University, the oldest university in KSA.

A preserved building in the old town of Jeddah,
included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Compared with Riyadh, Jeddah is a coastal paradise. In addition to the weather being cooler, it is less dusty and less oppressive in many ways than Riyadh. The population is cosmopolitan, and, because the city is close to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it is a tourist destination. This was my first sight of the Red Sea where, as the Old Testament describes, Moses parted the water and crossed from Egypt to the Promised Land. I can imagine that, all those thousands of years ago, this place did not look very promising.

International family
The Watson family is scattered across the globe. Another contingent is in Florida, where Mrs. Watson and our youngest daughter arrived this week. Our daughter is taking part in a street-dancing competition at Daytona Beach, and Mrs. Watson will continue training for the London Marathon.

My ambitions are modest by comparison. I am training for a 10-kilometre race, and managed to run 13 miles over four days along the seafront in Jeddah. My next visit to the Middle East is in May, when I go to Bahrain, but a visit to Genoa, Italy comes before that.

Podcasting continues, if you want to listen to my daily reflections on Jeddah. With my new Veho MUVI Mini Cam, claimed to be the smallest video camera in the world, I posted on YouTube a compilation of video segments, all in one 48-minute clip, that range from Hull to Riyadh. Persevere—or fast-forward—to take a cultural tour of Riyadh and hear the call to prayer going out.

For Reflections on Nursing Leadership (RNL), published by the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. Comments are moderated. Those that promote products or services will not be posted.

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