Saudi Arabia: Is an All-Women Hospital Feasible?


Recent medical graduates from the Ibn Sena College of Medicine in Jeddah believe that the time is right to establish an all-women hospital. They believe that Saudi women would prefer and feel more comfortable at an all-women hospital.  The graduates further state that there are enough women who have received degrees from all medical specialties to support an all-women hospital.

Is an all-women hospital feasible?  Is it practical or is it a step backwards?  I know that a woman can easily be seen and attended by a female practitioner at hospitals in the Kingdom.  She would also have a room in the women’s section of the hospital.

Would an all-women hospital impede continued learning on the part of the medical staff and technicians?  Would an all-women hospital be able to have the same exposure with international physicians and sharing of techniques and new practices?

Would one encounter differing cultural practices at an all-women hospital as compared to the existing hospitals in the Kingdom?

Would Saudi society become more accepting of nursing as a profession for Saudi women knowing they could obtain positions at an all-women hospital?

An all-women hospital is not a new suggestion.  It had been proposed in 2010 and I had written my views at that time too.

Even if there is an all-women hospital, male visitors would need to be accommodated.

All-women hospitals are not unheard of.  If one does a google search with the terms women only hospital there are many hits.  Such hospitals do exist in differing parts of the world.

An all-women hospital is an interesting concept.  Knowing the culture and traditions I can understand where such a hospital would be very appealing to families in the Kingdom.  At the same time, when it comes to a patient’s care and treatment, I do not think their choices should be limited to the sex of the individuals who are treating them.

What do you think?

35 Responses

  1. What the hell? I am surprised they do not have it now.

  2. I think so. Cuz of segregation of sexes in ksa. Also, women will feel
    safer and securer.

  3. As several readers may observe: In some major North American hospitals, there ARE women’s hospitals but they may have male staff.

    But clearly the focus of some of their programs on women’s physiology. Why not? We are different in certain areas, biologically.

    As for the question: “Would an all-women hospital impede continued learning on the part of the medical staff and technicians? Would an all-women hospital be able to have the same exposure with international physicians and sharing of techniques and new practices?”

    I think the question should be more pointed on if a women’s hospital could do the following:

    *become a teaching hospital. It definitely brings new blood and new innovations on an ongoing basis.
    *research grant dollars for new treatments, therapies, etc. with published researcher-physicians
    *attract health care professionals who want to practice there because it offers leadership in medical practice and health care for women

    from a person who is a sister of a: emergency services doctor (acute care, teaching hospital), another sister (testing lab at a major women’s hospital in Toronto, now working as a receptionist in a pediatric hospital) and 3rd sister a hospital pharmacist who does research work for a teaching hospital.

    I was a medical librarian for a rehabilitation hospital focused on care of spinal cord injured adults (paraplegics & quadriplegics).

    I hope I have made my point. 🙂

  4. I would say to any women physicians in Saudia Arabia: Lead in this direction, publish internationally….AND promote yourself professionally. No one else will do it for you/for the hospital.

  5. I think it is a stupid unworkable idea- but then as a human and a Muslim I am 100% against gender apartheid.

  6. Very interesting perspectives and good suggestions, Jean.

  7. All women Hospital is a very good idea. Women are capable of performing the job what men can do in the hospital.I agree with the comments of @sandy of 7 December.

  8. I totally agree with Sandy. It’s a stupid idea that has no chance of working and will promote the unislamic idea that women and men are not supposed to mix in any form or at any time. I put this up there with the idea of building another level around the Kaaba so that there can be a women’s section separate from the mens. Throughout all Islamic history women and men have worked along side each other, walked along side each other, interacted in many ways. What we see now is cultural and not Islamic and should not be encouraged. The more they seperate the sexes the more they make ANY interaction between them seem wrong, sinful and bad.

  9. There was actually a proposal for a women section at the Kaaba?!

  10. @Sami,
    You agree with me? You say it’s a good idea. I said it’s a very bad idea.

    Yes. Some idiots want to completely “unmix” the Kaaba.

  11. @Sandy – yet the Kaaba is where women are to walk with their faces uncovered! MamaB made an excellent point about the culture interfering with the religion.

  12. It could work, as long as they permit the female drs to interact with male doctors. i don’t know how good an idea it would be to isolate the female drs , i thinkt heir skill would erode overtime.

    Atleast in my field it would, I constantly interact with male drs . Where research is concerned Sex of the dr should not matter.

    so theya re going to get women cleaning staff, security staff etc., i assume. what if they want a consult and the consultant is male, is that OK or will they just deny patients that option???

    I don’t know might work , but usually where i’ve seen it work in in the level of smaller clinics. running a full hospital with surgical/medical units etc., may not be such a great idea.

    Atleast if i were to be sick i would prefer to go to one where the good physicians are, at that point i couldn;t care less if it was a male or female dr who worked on me as long as they were good. i don’t think i’d limit my choices just to be amongst women…

    but it could work ….will never know till they try.

  13. I think it’s an idea that works well in theory – until you’re sick and the best doctor who can help you is male. Then I wonder how your family would feel if they are told, “sorry, we can’t have Mr. Dr. here operating on your daughter. Because he has a penis, and we don’t allow that here.”

    Radha is on to something when she says female doctors must be allowed to have consults with male physicians, but what about scenarios when you need more than a consult? Like a procedure or surgery done? Not everything can be solved via a simple consult.

    It’s also the reason why I think Muslim Olympics (with segregated women’s events) are a joke. Athletes must compete with their global peers to be considered the best. Limiting competition to only Muslim women athletes is an insult to a true athletic competition spirit. What good is an Olympic medal won in an event from which a majority of other athletes were excluded?

  14. I agree with Sandy. Women only hospitals have a potential of providing less quality care for women, since Saudi has a history in this area.

    On the practical side, hospitals do not only require doctors and nurses, they employ an army of different specialties from administrators to technicians. Finding women to fill all of these niches will be close to impossible. Further it is not economical to have communities with separate hospitals. It is better to spend the money in making hospitals more specialties of care. It is not like Saudi has reached the pinnacle of healthcare fro its citizens and have extra resources to spend on such nonsense.

    The focus should be on solving the right problems. Women who lived in segregation all their life are not comfortable in open environments, where men can be present. Yes someone can say that is irrational, but we are talking about patient comfort and these women would not be comfortable and it may impact their recovery. Simple solutions like regulating visiting hours, providing better separators in rooms, etc. can be used to improve the situation. These ideas are already in use in hospitals. Perhaps small improvements can be made.

    The only reason the idea of women hospitals is even under discussion is because the conservative clergy are always looking for new ideas to pull the country backwards. Even if these ideas fail they achieve the goal of halting progress and keeping the public occupied in discussions of such absurdities.

  15. People_ if MoQ and I are agreeing on something it is almost a certainty! Besides the whole “women only” atmosphere tanks when the husbands fathers sons and brothers all appear. So what is the point?

  16. Absolutely a bad idea. It’s one thing to have a women’s hospital where the patients are all women but to take it further to the staff is a very bad idea … just as bad as having a ‘men only’ staffed hospital. People have to get over the idea of having only women or only men treat them but if they can’t do that then don’t downgrade a hospital by denying specialists and medical staff to be of only one gender. It can only hurt the quality of care, not help it.

  17. one good thing to comeout of this, maybe they wont let males inside the compund, so the women can drive their relatives and a mahrem wont be required to admit them and give consent 🙂 i’m ok with that…
    the more i think about it the more i’m begining to like this women only idea.. maybe they can cook up any and all schemes here with interfearence from men especially pvpv.. won’t they be pissed !!!!

    On a serious note – saudi is not knows for treating it’s women citizens right, and neither are some family men who think they know best, if this catches they may require their women to go to awomens hospital instead of the best …. that’s the one thing that worries me.. in any other place in the world this concept would work fine , ironic isn’t it.

  18. Actually, they probably wouldn’t have much trouble finding women doctors. There are lots of Saudi female doctors. It’s the technical support and nursing staff that’s the issue. As for janitors- they would do like girls schools do and import female labor.

  19. Sandy – you are correct , there is an overabundance of female medical professionals . however there are some fields which are represented moe than the others, that’s my only concern. some specialities women are non-existant.

    A womens hospital will work as long as the physicians and surgeons etc.,are mixed gender, then i see it working very well. they could then staff depending on the needs and long term care basis , very workable. but if they limit staff to women too then it’s a burnt toast.

  20. @Sandy,

    “People_ if MoQ and I are agreeing on something”

    Miracles happen 🙂

  21. @lucretia
    In what way are Saudi men not that competent? As doctors? And are you claiming that female doctors can’t be endocrinologists or cardiac doctors in Saudi?

  22. @Radha
    Yes if it were female only patients it could work- but that’s not what they’re talking about.
    Shortages of doctors are also among male doctors. Saudi simply doesn’t have enough doctors of either gender and so they import what they need.

    There are few female doctors as part of the brain drain because there is a doctor shortage and the doctors can get jobs and a woman being a doctor is socially acceptable and prestigious in many circles.

  23. If you’ve read the article cited in the post, it is recent female med school graduates who are promoting the concept of an all women hospital.

    When I was in Riyadh the Director of the ER at King Faisal Specialist Hospital was an Iranian-American woman. She had so much responsibility and obviously worked very well under pressure.

    However I personally am not in favor of an all women hospital. What would happen if a woman needed a consultation by a male specialist? Would she have to be moved to where he practiced? Not too practical if you are ill.

    There are qualified female physicians in Saudi but I don’t think enough to fully and thoroughly staff a hospital. I think availability of technicians and nurses would be even slimmer (among Saudi women).

  24. It would not/should not work in any country.

  25. Yet there are all women hospitals in the USA, Europe, Canada and elsewhere around the world.

  26. @AB, Are you confusing Woman Hospitals as in having specialties in dealing with women health issues (ex. pregnancy) verses Women Only Hospitals as in separate the women so they do not mingle with men?

    The first type does exist in the US, Europe and Canada. That is not what is suggested in Saudi…

  27. Carol, there are indeed very fine women’s hospitals in Canada and elsewhere. Vancouver has a fine one for obstetrics and other women’s health issues BUT …. the staff are not all women. It is equal opportunity. I’ve watched two grandchildren born in such a hospital with a male obstetrician chosen by my DIL. I saw lots of male staff including nurses in this hospital.

  28. I think the concept is workable especially in a women’s clinic that provides basic care. However, hospitals are different and the reality is that just because someone is doctor, doesn’t mean they are good at what they do or that they get along with every patient that walks in the door. Many doctors are not simply choosen on their practice, but also on what they look like, how they act, their gender, their place in society… It would be too simple to think of it only based on gender.

    That being said: could you imagine a Men’s ONLY hospital?! hahaha… the male patients would revolt against their male nurses after a few shifts. Tey would have to realize how talented and gifted women are at being caregivers to complete strangers (something that men struggle with doing even with family members)…

    If I had a pick, I would much rather have a surgery in a co-ed hospital and then be transferred to a women’s only recovery center : ).

  29. I have never been in a woman’s hospital so I did not know that the ones which are in existence are still coed.

    I believe it was Stephi who said she’d like to recover in an all women hospital. Actually that is pretty much what it is like at National Guard Health Affairs in Riyadh. Female patients are in the women only ward and men are in the men’s ward. However if a woman was treated by a male doctor then he would be the one making rounds to see her. Additionally her male relatives are allowed to see her too during specified visiting hours.

  30. @carol – What you descrive works very well and in many hospitals where there are common wards the men and women are separated and that makes them both comfortable, again we are talking common wards, it would be very awkward to have co-ed wards, especially despending on the level of care that is required.
    I’ve worked in complete women hospitals — as in only women patients admitted , but the admin staff, support staff, drs etc., could be men or women. it’s usually a women and childrens hospitals and caters predominantly to women.

    A complete fully supported/run for and by women i’ve yet to see. it will be interesting. As for saudi drs both male and female they are very skilled, no one dr knows everything, if he/she is a specialist they probably know a lot about common things in their fields, less about rarer disorders, and only a little bit about other fields. so interaction and consults with other specialities is very important, A woman can work any and al specility however they may prefer not to. so a all womens hospital will probably have no choice but to have external consultants ( men) if they want to provide a high level of care. very interesting .

  31. From my perspective, this is a terrible idea – I would never use it. I’d prefer to be treated at a hospital that hires the most qualified doctors, and when a place automatically eliminates more than 50% of the labor pool based on gender before even looking at ability, there’s no way the quality of care is going to be the same. Unless they’re planning on banning male visitors entirely (which is something else I’d never want for myself!), women who are bothered by the possibility of encountering a strange man in the hallway would still need to be prepared for it.

    That said, in the context of Saudi Arabia, this might make sense for some women. Last I heard, it was still illegal for a woman to receive medical treatment without her husband or father’s permission, and it’s not unheard of for women to die because that permission wasn’t given. If an all-women hospital makes that less likely to happen, then I guess it’s a good thing, but it’s a jury-rigged solution to a problem that shouldn’t be happening in the first place. If the government is concerned enough about that the build a women-only hospital, they ought to be concerned enough to change that ridiculous law – it would be much cheaper!

    I have a bad feeling that once an all-woman hospital is established, women coming to mixed hospitals in that city will be sent there, and eventually be forbidden from receiving care anywhere else. That’s how these things usually end up in Saudi Arabia.

  32. You made some good points, Sunni Side Up.

  33. I think is a bad idea. We should not open hospital for women only.

  34. Having worked in a hospital in KSA I know it is just not feasible. Too many support staff are needed to run a hospital that are male only occupations such as maintenance, logistics etc. Heavy equipment and supplies need to be moved. Instrument maintenance and installation is generally a male occupation everywhere, not just KSA.

  35. “There was actually a proposal for a women section at the Kaaba?!”

    Sadly, yes there was. I think that Idea was energized by pure unadulterated ignorance. :-/

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