Dr. Muneera Al-Fadala on how she became the first and only practicing Qatari female vet in Qatar and at QF’s Equine Veterinary Medical Center – and why she chose to treat animals
It was summer but, as I crossed the tarmac at Hamad International Airport, I barely noticed the heat. I had been summoned to examine a few passengers on board a plane that had landed. Climbing up to the door, I peered inside.
Hearing my footsteps, pairs of long-lashed eyes turned to scrutinize me. A man jostled his way up. “Where’s the doctor?”, he muttered, looking past me. “It’s me,” I smiled. “You are a doctor?” he responded. He seemed incredulous.
Five hours, 50 camels, and dozens of blood samples and physical examinations later, he turned to me and repeated “You ARE a doctor!” – but this time with a completely different inflection in his voice.
‘Not everyone can show the level of compassion that you can.’
I may be the first and only practicing female Qatari veterinarian in this country at the moment, but if I close my eyes, I can still see myself as the six year-old who skipped alongside her grandfather, on his farm.
Once, he pointed at a cow and gave me what was my first lesson in veterinary medicine: “Animals can express emotion, Muneera. Look at that cow nuzzling against me; she trusts me because she knows I care for her.” My love of animals surfaced on that farm.
I was 10 years old when I first treated an animal – a stray cat whose wound I cleaned, disinfected, and dressed in bandages. In high school, my trajectory seemed clear: I toyed with idea of studying medicine. But my mother, who knew how much I loved animals, saw things differently.
“You are special; your gifts are special; so do something special,” she said. “Not everyone can show the level of compassion that you do to animals.” That woke me up. Coincidentally, around that time, I was selected by the Ministry of Municipality and Environment to study veterinary sciences at Cairo University in Egypt.
‘Your coat is not going to make a difference; your care is.’
During my first week at university, I sat in a lecture hall with my friends. We were abuzz with the pride of wearing gleaming white coats to class for the very first time. Our instructor noticed our excitement, and then told us something that – much like my mother’s and grandfather’s words years before – has stayed me with me to this day. “To an injured animal, your coat is not going to make a difference; your care is.” Lesson number two.
Those five years were exciting as we learnt about the anatomy, diseases and treatment of animals – domestic and wild, large and small. I looked at each exam passed, each encounter with a different species, as a milestone.
Upon my return to Qatar, I spent a year shadowing and learning from vets at government-run clinics. I distinctly remember my rotation in Doha Zoo; the excitement of the pre-dawn golf car rides with the zoo’s in-house veterinarians, as they scrutinized each animal, keeping an eye out for unusual behavior or feeding patterns.
Watching them, I couldn’t help but admire and respect the passion of these specialists who would wake up before sunrise every day, just to ensure that all animals under their care were healthy.
‘I can do it.’
Following that rotation, I joined a government hospital in Doha, as the manager for its pet clinic and cats control unit. While there, we received a patient – a German Shepherd dog – who had a congenital defect that involved the eyelid and eyelashes. The only solution was surgery. My colleagues felt that as it involved the delicate area surrounding the eye, surgery was risky.
But as I petted the dog, I could feel it relaxing; for some reason, it took me back to my very first patient that I treated when I was 10 years old. I looked up at my colleagues and said ‘I can do it’. With the help of my colleagues – who seemed to sense my determination – I proceeded to remove the eyelid extending to the cornea, and suture the wound together.
When the surgical site dried and healed, I was euphoric. That was lesson number three: treatment isn’t only about knowledge and equipment. Compassion, conviction, and courage count.
When Qatar Foundation invited me to help set up the Equine Veterinary Medical Center, I felt it was a calling.
‘Even now, as I walk along the corridors of EVMC, I feel as if I’m living a dream.’
As a child, and then a veterinarian, I have always admired the grace and free-spiritedness of horses. So in 2015, when Qatar Foundation invited me to help set up the Equine Veterinary Medical Center, I felt it was a calling: to belong to a medical and research facility dedicated to horses that helped to shape the course of history in this region.
I feel proud to have been involved in the various stages of planning – from the layout of the hospital rooms, through developing treatment facilities, to the care of the horses that were being referred to us.
Even now, as I walk along the corridors of this hospital, I feel as if I’m living a dream. I’m privileged to be part of a facility that is elite in resources, but not in reach. EVMC is for everyone – for each of the 15,000-plus horses in this country.
As the first female veterinarian in Qatar, I have an additional role: to show youth in Qatar that when you take up what you love, you’re able to help people more.
As the first female veterinarian in Qatar, I have an additional role: to show youth in Qatar that when you take up what you love, you’re able to help people more. I tell them that there is no job that they cannot do; that this nation requires more youth to take up careers that will help the country be self-sufficient. Equally, I would like to remind the public of something that is at the heart of Islam: compassion towards all living creatures.
‘I pray for you every day, doctor.’
I’ve often been asked whether my work involves the same level of dedication as that of a doctor who treats human beings. I wish these people had been present when a family brought their critically-injured cat to our government hospital, a few years ago. It had been mauled by a dog, leaving swathes of muscles exposed.
Animals, like us, can experience pain and joy; they have souls; they need to be treated with sensitivity and gentleness.
For most, the sensible thing would have been to relieve the cat of its misery, and leave it to die peacefully; after all, the chances of surviving such an attack were medically, slim. But one glance at the distraught owners – and the cat which, despite its condition, was attempting to purr at them – made up our minds for us. As they had brought in the cat after closing hours, I stayed behind to begin the painstaking task of cleaning, disinfecting, repairing, and suturing the wound. It took me hours to complete, and I spent the next day praying that the cat would survive. Two days passed before the animal was out of danger.
A month or so after the cat was discharged, I received an email from the owner, describing how it was recuperating – that it was eating, drinking and playing normally. At the end of the mail, she wrote: “I pray for you every day, doctor. I pray that you will always bring healing to every animal you touch.”
We veterinarians cherish these moments as much as our counterparts who attend to human beings. Animals, like us, can experience pain and joy; they have souls; they need to be treated with sensitivity and gentleness. That’s the reason why we commit ourselves to this career; that’s the reason why I’m here.
And, that’s why I breathe a prayer before I treat each and every patient. ‘Bismillahi Ar-Rahmani Ar-Raheem……Lord, please give me the wisdom, strength and, knowledge to bring healing to this patient – with compassion and mercy.’