On multiple occasions, my husband was offered the opportunity to relocate within his company to the Far East, but I was always against the idea of leaving the US. But one time, when we were on vacation in Mexico, he told me about an opportunity to transfer to Malaysia, and I said yes, why not? Both of us were surprised at my reaction.
Then COVID-19 happened, and everything froze across the globe. Since that trip to Mexico, I kept thinking about it but I didn’t look into it again until my husband was given the opportunity to lead the teams in the east. That’s when I decided to look again, but this time, in the Gulf region, so I could capitalize on the culture, and the language, and be closer to family since we’re Jordanians by heritage.
My Anxiety and My Hopes
As a mother of two girls, my older daughter was in high school, and the transition made me anxious. I didn’t want to interfere with her high school or cause academic gaps. While I personally would not experience a significant language or cultural shock in this transition, my children would – they had lived in the US since birth.
I was also worried because I had never practiced medicine outside the US. I didn’t know how the healthcare system works, what the patient population is like, what the medical community is like. And I was concerned about setting my career back by making this move.
“I want my children to know us by experience, not just in theory, so they do not question their identity and origin later in their adult life.”
At the same time, I wanted my children to get exposure to life outside the USA, especially in an area where our culture, language, and religion are practiced. I want my children to know us by experience, not just in theory, so they do not question their identity and origin later in their adult life.
Life in Qatar
Initially, we thought about moving to Dubai. But considering my family and kids, I thought Qatar would be a better fit. It’s a small, quiet, safe, and clean country close to Jordan. The population is young, highly educated, and very modern, with excellent international schools and satellite campuses for Georgetown and Weill Cornell. They’re big on sports, they have a national sports day, and it’s a national holiday!
I work at a brand-new private hospital affiliated with Cedars Sinai of Los Angeles. As a pediatrics consultant, I work in both inpatient and outpatient settings. We rotate calls and morning rounds. Home visits are an option but not mandatory. The hospital does not have research or academic affiliations yet; though there might be a collaboration with Weill Cornell Medical School (they have a Qatar campus), nothing is confirmed.
At work, I found it hard to accept that Human Resources in the company is the same for physicians and employees, so the communication, policies, and workflows did not make much sense to me initially, but with time it became better.
Outside work, the first phase, school transfers, government paperwork, and driver’s license, were a nightmare (maybe because I arrived just before FIFA season). A driver’s license takes months to be obtained. But once tucked into the system, things are easy and systematic.
The cost of living, rent, and schooling are so expensive! Had I known this, I would have negotiated the salary better. Expatriates can only enroll children in private schools; American schools are the most expensive. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised by how clean it is here; they’ve raised the bar high! I’m also doing a Master’s in Healthcare Management, something I would not have done if I had stayed in the USA 😊
I’d do it differently
I’d do it again, yes! But I’d do it differently. I would investigate a lot more the cost of living and the cost of schooling. I would negotiate better, particularly for the education reimbursement benefits. And I would not have shipped all my stuff with me. In Qatar, renting a fully furnished apartment or villa is very common and easy.
In moving abroad, I learned:
- I can manage life and family outside my comfort zone
- I can make a living anywhere I go.
- That relocating family is hard but adults and children can benefit from an international experience.
At the end of the day, money is important, but the move should be for much more than financial gain. For me, moving abroad was about learning about how people live in different parts of the world – and sharing this experience with my family and kids.
Dr. Nataly Ghanem completed residency in 2015 from UC Davis, California. She practiced pediatrics in a large medical group in northern California until September 2022 when she moved to Qatar. She now lives and practices outpatient and inpatient pediatrics in Qatar.