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The experience of an Italian female Consultant Bariatric Surgeon in the Middle East

Dr Adriana Rotundo comes from a small town by the sea in the south of Italy, Catanzaro, where she completed her medical school in 2002. She then moved to Rome for her core surgical training. Dr Adriana is specialized in Bariatric Surgery and Laparoscopic Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery, and in the UK she was also performing minimally invasive oesophageal and gastric resections for cancer. She completed her specialist training in three large and renowned UK centres for UGI and Bariatric surgery: the University College Hospital in London, the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.

Dr Adriana Rotundo

She was appointed as a Consultant Bariatric and Esophagogastric surgeon at the age of 35 in a very large hospital in the Stoke on Trent at the University Hospital of North Midlands (>1,000beds). She also joined Phoenix, a private UK healthcare for Bariatric Surgery lead by Professor David Kerrigan, building her experience in more complex revision bariatric procedures.

Dr Adriana was motivated all her life to become a surgeon: “I could have not become anything else, you can succeed only in the job you love."

The road was very bumpy and she had to travel a lot and work day and night, but she never stopped believing in herself. During her last year of training in Rome, she decided to move to the UK against everyone else's advice.

“It is hard to leave your routine and your country, but if I hadn’t, my life would have been very different, and certainly I would have not become the surgeon I am today. Our job is a life commitment; we do not leave the hospital stop thinking about our patients. We strive to achieve more and more because we really enjoy our profession, and always want to be better making our patients' experience as best as we possibly can."

Her next step was changing continent moving to UAE: “Moving to the Middle East was the most exciting and challenging decision I have ever taken in my life. It was not easy, and I was worried to leave a full-time job in a stable system. However, “certainty” does not mean always “happiness”, and I like to take risks and challenge myself. I feel that every time you make a change, you learn something new about yourself.”

Dr Adriana experience in Abu Dhabi has been good so far: “There is a misconception that in the Middle East women are not respected and religion divides people. This is so untrue. Abu Dhabi is incredibly open-minded and religion is never a discriminating factor. As an Italian female surgeon, I have never felt more appreciated and welcome as in this country, receiving full trust from my patients. Being a young, non-married, female professional can be deceiving sometimes, but clearly, people here can see far beyond the appearance. My patients are mainly Muslims, male and female; they always respect me and my team.”

Bariatric Nurse Coordinator - Rabab Elnaggar (left), Dietician - Faten Ibrahim Bayado and Dr Adriana Rotundo

Dr Adriana quickly created a very intense and fulfilling social life: “I made so many friends in this country already. They come from many different countries (UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan) and I am learning their culture and their beliefs, and I like the fact they are curious to know about my culture and they accept my background. UAE is an incredible country, it is so safe that I can go out at any time of the day or night without any sense of danger, moreover is extremely beautiful and there are a lot of places to visit and activities to do. I feel very lucky to live here”.

However, not always it is easy to work in such a competitive environment: “I am sometimes asked if I have ever felt discriminated along my career. The truth is that there will always be someone who look at you thinking you are not good enough or someone who is jealous of how good and passionate you are about your job. On top of that, if you are a woman and a kind person, then the jealousy can be even more pronounced. I have learnt how to deal with this over time and let us say “what does not kill you make you stronger”. I have been very lucky all along my career. I have had fantastic mentors and colleagues from which I have learnt and still learn a lot. I try every day to do the same with my juniors, being a positive role model. They are always impressed by my enthusiasm for this profession and I wanted them to learn not only how to perform surgical procedures, but even how to care of their patients, how to work well with their colleagues, respecting the staff and asking for help when needed. “Being a good surgeon just does not end in the operating room.”

The path of Dr Adriana is far from the end: “In the Middle East I arrived at a stage of my career where I was already very experienced and independent, but I have been very lucky to rely on a fantastic team committed to provide the best care to the patients. Our Bariatric team in the operating room and in the ward in Seha Emirates Hospital is exceptionally well trained. Therefore, starting this new job was much easier than I had predicted. In the first year we safely delivered over 150 bariatric surgical and endoscopic procedures and we are planning to employ another surgeon very soon. Very recently, I have been offered a position also in Dubai, and I am counting to start very soon to work in both sites.”

Obesity is terrible disease and Dr Adriana is at the forefront in the fight: “I feel privileged to work in the field Weight loss/Bariatric Surgery, Obesity in the Middle East represents a serious healthcare problem with over 30% of the adult population being obese and with over 1 million of people being affected by type II diabetes. We all know the benefit of surgery not only in terms of weight loss but also on the physical and mental health of the patients. Recently the Department of Health has updated the criteria for Bariatric Surgery and so more patients are having easier access to surgery covered by the health insurance.

The new criteria include patients for surgery with a BMI of 40, or 35 to 39.9 with at least one comorbidity or 30 to 34.9 with uncontrolled type II diabetes. The procedures we mostly perform in my hospital are laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy and gastric bypass (both mini gastric bypass and Roux en Y). For the patients with a BMI from 27 to 35, defined ‘overweight’ (BMI 27-30) and ‘Mild Obese’ (BMI 31-35), we are also offering endoscopic procedures like the Intragastric Balloon and most recently the Endoscopic Sleeve Gastroplasty. All these procedures are only a part of the journey of these patients; to be entitled to have surgery, they need to work with a dietician, a psychologist/psychiatrist and an endocrinologist, committing to a lifestyle change after the surgery.”

The biggest reward for Dr Adriana: “The most rewarding part of our job is to see our patients happy, confident and healthy. These is our goal always. I feel honoured to work in this field and I am lucky to have all the means available in order to deliver such a high standard treatments in UAE, this what makes our profession feeling so special, to be able to offer high quality care and see the patients going safely throughout a life changing treatment”.

This article was authored by Dr Adriana Rotundo, a Consultant Bariatric and Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Seha Emirate Hospital, Abu Dhabi, UAE


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