UAE Portrait of a Nation: One of the first Emirati pathologists seeks to inspire a new generation

Published on : 25 May 2018
Location : Abu Dhabi


Dr Suhaila Alameeri, Consultant Anatomic Pathologist at National Reference Laboratory, is one of the first Emirati pathologists in the country. She speaks to Shireena Al Nowais from 'The National' newspaper, May 25th 2018

Sitting in a lab behind a microscope for hours on end might not be the most appealing job for most Emiratis, but for one exceptional woman it is a passion and her true calling. Dr Suhaila Alameeri is one of the first Emirati pathologists in a country where there are less than ten. She dedicates her life to studying diseases and educating women on cervical and breast cancer, and the importance of screening.

Dr Alameeri was born in 1972 – a time when it was almost unheard of for women to travel abroad to pursue their studies. She travelled to Egypt to study medicine at the age of 17. “My father was my biggest supporter,” she said. “But I'll never forget my first day at university in Egypt. I went in wearing our national dress – a jalabiya and a sheila – which was very strange for the other students to see. I was so naïve and had lived my entire childhood going just from school to home and vice versa. Egypt was only three hours away but I felt like I was at the end of the world.”

Dr Alameeri was the first person in her family to travel to study abroad and her life is one that was filled with challenges as well as success. “Traveling abroad was the first challenge – for our generation things were very different from today. We didn’t have the internet so I didn’t know what to expect.” When she returned home she undertook an internship and fell in love with pathology. “The main challenge then was gaining the trust of the clinicians. I was the youngest in the department and the only Emirati," she said. “I think because there are so few Emiratis in this sub specialty." It took her two years to gain their trust, but she was soon entrusted to consolidate all the pathology labs in Abu Dhabi into one centralised unit at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

As a Consultant Anatomic Pathologist at National Reference Laboratory and a member of the National Taskforce for Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, she often volunteers at her local gym to educate women on the importance of cancer screening. A task she says could be more effective if more Emiratis were involved. “We definitely need more Emiratis because you need ownership. If you want to have advancements and sustainability in any service, you need Emiratis. Not just in pathology – you need locals in all sectors. They know their culture, they know their people and know the gaps and how to approach them. We have to spread the word and the message that women need to take care of their health. They need to know more about common cancers and how to deal with it," she said. Breast cancer is the number one female cancer.

Dr Alameeri also volunteers at Al Ain University as an adjunct faculty member in the pathology department teaching medical students pathology. Unfortunately, she says, disheartened, “not may Emiratis want to be pathologists. I think many people think it means hours sitting in a lab behind a microscope and that is boring. We must teach medical students the importance of pathology. I felt that pathology is the essence of medicine. You know the history of the disease and all its advancements. You guide the clinicians because they manage a patient based on our diagnoses. And doctors will not treat without diagnoses,” she said.