Just the Job

Gynaecologist Dr. Naglaa Rizk reveals that people are either fascinated or disgusted by her line of work
Tuesday , 13 March 2012
Just the Job
Dr. Naglaa Rizk

When people discover that I work in gynaecology they are either fascinated, or disgusted! It’s okay, I understand it’s not a career choice that appeals to everyone. But my parents were doctors and I loved going to work with my mum, who was a paediatrician. Seeing her helping people and witnessing the effect she had on the community around her really infl uenced me – I wanted to help people too – so I signed up for Medical school.

I came to the Welcare hospital six months ago and live as near to the building as I can, because mornings in my house can be pretty hectic! Being a mum of three, I’m up at seven and have to prioritise that my children who are 13, four and two years-old are ready for school before I go to work.

As a consultant gynaecologist my role is varied – while I’m qualified to work within obstetrics, these days I focus on performing keyhole surgery for issues like ectopic pregnancies and treating patients for menstrual , pelvic and vaginal pain, ovarian problems, fibroids and sexual health – all the awkward and embarrassing things that as women, we don’t really want to confront or talk about.

I start at 8am and see around fi fteen women each day for half an hour slots, and the ages range from children to women in their 80s. Most of my consultations consist of a few minutes of examination, and the rest of the time is taken up with counselling and education. The main topic that I discuss with patients is stress, and the link between it and the gynaecological problems they’re suffering. They may seem unconnected but when I see a patient I don’t just focus on what I can treat medically; their concern is usually caused by an emotional factor. Part of getting to the root of a patient’s problem will mean talking about their life which means my appointments can become upsetting. I see lots of women who are suffering from abuse, and the repercussions are manifesting in gynae problems. It can sometimes be distressing, but it makes me feel good that the woman has found someone she can talk to.

Compared to other countries, women in the Middle East are less educated about sexual health and gynaecological issues than others because there are so many cultural taboos here. Women in this region don’t tend to speak to one other about these subjects, or pass knowledge down to their children, so the inter-generational education doesn’t fl ow in the way I believe it should. I see women who come to me thinking they are pregnant and they haven’t even had sexual intercourse, and that is as sad as it is worrying. I see others who are convinced they ‘don’t look right down there’ and they think they need plastic surgery. With all these issues I am keen for there to be more advice and discussion about them.

The best part of my job is making women better; knowing that when someone comes to see me in pain, I can diagnose and operate on them quickly and that within 24 hours she can be getting on with her life. The worst part of my job is definitely ‘the yuck’! It goes without saying that there are moments of my job that are extremely unglamorous, and that’s the part that strangers tend to be the most intrigued by – people ask me, ‘How can you look at that all day?’ But as far as I see it, I’m just looking at a body part. Of course, I understand that examinations can be an uncomfortable experience and I, as a patient, don’t like to be examined either. When people come to see me and announce ‘I don’t like this,’ I answer ‘I’d be worried if you did!’ People seem to think that what I see on an examination table is all I’m going to remember about the patient, which couldn’t be less true!

Unless I’m in surgery, I fi nish work at around 5pm and once a week I’m on call all night. Luckily, the moment I get home, my children take over so it’s easy to switch off. There are evenings when I do feel very tired and stressed but reading calms me down, and my eldest daughter and I have got into jetskiing which can help release tension. It’s funny because my best piece of health advice for women would be to take care of themselves – and to do all the things I’m not very good at – eating well and reducing stress! I’d urge them to make time for themselves to do what makes them happy. I go to bed around midnight and I rarely sleep deeply, but I can’t complain. My job puts me in a situation where I can help women every day and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to say that.’

Space travel used to fascinate me and for years I wanted to be the first woman in space, but then Sally Ride got there in 1983 and that shattered my dreams! After that I thought being a writer would be great, but many don’t get published and don’t get paid enough for it. I also loved the idea of being a poet – I love Sylvia Plath – and used to write a lot of poems. I keep telling myself I should get back into it... perhaps there is a market for gynae poetry?!

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