Healthcare Pioneers

Dr Reem Osman
CEO, Saudi German Hospital Dubai

As the Saudi German Hospital Dubai celebrates it’s 5th year of operation in 2017, the hospital group is forging ahead on a path of expansion over the coming years in the lead up to the Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  The woman at the helm of the company since 2012, Chief Executive Officer Dr Reem Osman is in charge of steering the group into a new era of healthcare delivery and, no doubt, into improving the lives of thousands of more patients across the UAE and the Gulf region.

Recognised in the region as one of the top female leaders both within and outside her industry, Dr Reem has many accolades to her name including being named as one of the top 15 most influential business people in the Emirate by Arabian Business in 2017, as well as a string of other business, humanitarian and leadership achievements. This industry recognition for the role she has played in the business and healthcare community in the UAE is only part of Dr Reem’s story; she is also a mother, sister, daughter and wife.

Dr Reem credits the upbringing and family values that she enjoyed growing up in Syria as establishing her on the path to where she finds herself today. She says that she worked hard to do well at school and that, as an A-grade student medicine was a natural progression for her after high school. By the time it came to choose a university degree, Dr Reem was inspired by both her older sister who had already forged a career as a paediatrician, as well as her mother’s desire to have more doctors in the family.

She says choosing a speciality was a difficult decision and that after consulting with her family, the consensus was for her to pursue ophthalmology – a speciality that she says allowed her to deal with all types of patients, from children and families, to adults and geriatric patients. “It gave me the chance to specialise in something that was very precious to all of these people; our vision is how we communicate with each other.”

Dr Reem graduated from Tishreen University in Latakia, Syria and continued her medical education at the same university, obtaining a Master’s degree in Eye Diseases and Surgery. She later gained an MBA from Sydney Business School at Wollongong University and became a member of the International Council of Opthalmology.

Having finished her Master’s degree in Syria, Dr Reem knew that she wanted to go abroad to explore her options out side of her home country. Her first port of call was working as a Specialist Opthalmologist in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “My sister had already moved there to work in medicine so it seemed like the logical option to follow in her footsteps,” she explains.

After a year of working in Jeddah, Dr Reem’s university in Latakia offered her the chance to take up a fellowship to study Paediatric Opthalmology in France. This turned out to be a big crossroad in her life. “I knew that this was an important decision for me to take - to continue working or to go back into academia. To this day, I always refer back to this point in my life when I think about the importance of being able to make the right decisions and choices in life, be it in your personal life or in your career. This is also something that I teach my children on a daily basis; to not be afraid of failure and to have the courage to make choices for yourself.”

At the time, Dr Reem decided not to pursue the fellowship and instead continue her work in Dr. Soliman Fakeeh Hospital in Jeddah and later, at the Saudi German Hospital in Jeddah. Ultimately, Dr Reem credits this choice for setting her on the trajectory that lead her to the position that she holds today. “This required me to have a strong heart and follow my own path. Especially as a female, this sixth sense was something that I had a lot of faith in. It hasn’t let me down so far.”

This is something that Dr Reem also instills in her three young daughters. She says she teaches them to follow their passions and to believe that they can be successful when they put their heart and soul into doing something they love. “Anything is achievable if you believe in yourself and you are motivated to reach your goals. It is import to know this from a young age,” she explains.

“My mother always taught me these values from a young age,” Dr Reem adds. “She was a big influence on my life and inspired me to make decisions for myself that were based on furthering my knowledge and striving to succeed in my chosen career.”

She also credits her teachers, both in her early years and at university, for instilling a sense of pride and ambition into everything that she does in life. “One particular teacher taught me that you didn’t need to act like a man, or try to disguise your femininity, to be a successful leader. I carried this advice with me throughout my career and would like to think that I have achieved what I have by following her example.”

Her elder sister was also a huge role model in her life “She was the one who paved the way for me to pursue medicine and to travel abroad. Without her tenacity and drive to make her own mark in the world, it would have been infinitely harder for myself and my other siblings to achieve some of this things that we have achieved today,” says Dr Reem.

Juggling family life with a demanding career can be an uphill battle for any parent but Dr Reem believes that the secret to finding a balance between the two is to never deal with your children as children. “When you raise your children as friends and equals, your life will become much easier. If you give them responsibility from an early age, they tend to rise to the challenge. Transparency is also very important. I am always open about my work responsibilities and that despite not always being able to be at home with them, I make sure that they know that I am always available to them when they need me.”

Dr Reem believes that these same principles can also be applied at the workplace but that it is important to always be aware about how you deliver the message to your team. “You need to be transparent and you need to be able to give adequate justification for any decisions that you make within the hospital. This way you can keep your staff informed about the things that will ultimately affect their careers.”

To be a successful female leader, Dr Reem advises women to take a middle road when it comes to asserting their dominance in the workplace or the boardroom. “Try not to be too soft, or too strict. In fact, I see it as an advantage that, as females, we can openly show a slightly softer or more maternal side to our characters; something many men in leadership positions feel that they cannot do.”

She believes that as women, the boundaries can be less ridged in the workplace. For instance, she would find it very easy to ask a colleague or a staff member about their family or home life. “Again, I believe this ties in with our ability to put transparency and human connections at the heart of everything we do.”

She also says that sometimes, what can actually lead to failure in a business, is the fact that the people in leadership positions can loose themselves in their position or role, and ignore or hide those fundamental traits or behaviours that made them a good leader in the first place. “The desire to prove ourselves in the workplace can easily cause us to loose sight of our fundamental goals and principals as human beings. That is not to say that we won’t have to make sacrifices along the way - we undoubtedly will as we cannot be perfect at everything - but it is important to not blame yourself if you cannot execute every single task faultlessly.”

“If you expect this from yourself it will ultimately start bringing you down and your staff and colleagues will notice it,” she adds. “They sense it when you are happy and balanced, so they will also sense when you are stressed or under pressure. After all, we are all human beings.”

Dr Reem believes that surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people is a great strategy to ensure that you are able to fulfill your role as a leader in a more effective way. “Sometimes I feel that negative people start to absorb my energy and ultimately divert it away from the things that matter which is the future of the business, the wellbeing of the staff and the goals that we are collectively striving to achieve.”

“Is only takes one person with negative energy to have a detrimental effect on the whole hospital,” she says. “We need to be sensitive to these nuances in peoples personalities and work with the whole team to ensure that everyone remains passionate, committed and motivated in their work.”

No one is able to grow in his or her professional life without a strong team, Dr Reem says. “If you are growing, your team will grow with you which will ultimately leave all of you in a stronger position moving forward. Opening those glass doors and being transparent with everyone – from the clerks, accounts, and staff nurses, all the way up to senior members of staff - will strengthen shared dreams, missions and goals. This will build trust; the ultimate building block in a successful company.”

Looking to future, the Saudi German Hospital Group is expanding beyond Dubai into neighbouring emirates including Ajman and Sharjah. “We are now in a phase that we have moved towards operating as a UAE group, which is under the umbrella of the main Group, in addition to the KSA branches, Egypt branches, and other projects in Pakistan and countries further afield,” Dr Reem explains. “We have worked hard to prepare ourselves mentally to move from operating one hospital in isolation in Dubai, to operating as a UAE Group with it’s own plans for growth.”

These expansion plans are in line with the UAE governments’ Vision 2021 and the hive of strategic activities surrounding the preparation for the Dubai Expo 2020. A huge part of this is the expansion of the existing Saudi German Hospital Dubai campus in Al Barsha. “Everything is in line with our group plans to grow within the UAE and my focus as Group CEO of the UAE activities is to bring our staff in line with these plans.”

Dr Reem believes that while the company is going through a phase of rapid growth, it is especially important to maintain that family ethos, where the staff remains as an intimate family unit, all working towards the same goals.

“This is what distinguishes us from the other operators in the country – the family atmosphere, the open door policy – and it is something that I am very passionate about upholding,” she explains. “What we love about Saudi German Hospital Dubai is that we will maintain this same spirit no matter how many entities we open in the future.”