[article modified from the UIC Alumni Magazine]

Growing up near a nursing school in Salamniya, Bahrain, Dr. Naeema Al-Gasseer, PhD ’90, MS ’87, admired the young women she saw studying there. But it was her father’s ill health that brought her into close contact with nurses. “I saw how well he was taken care of,” she says. “I saw more nurses around him than anyone else.”

This caring aspect of the profession impressed the young Al-Gasseer, who decided to study nursing and midwifery at a school near her home rather than take one of the many opportunities she was offered to study science or medicine in Bahrain and abroad. The only barrier that remained was convincing her family, who didn’t view nursing as a prestigious vocation. “I told them I would get my degree and I would change that image,” Al-Gasseer says. “I told my grandfather that by the time I graduated, he would encourage others from the family to join the nursing profession.”

When she received her degree, not only did Al-Gasseer’s grandfather urge her cousins to become nurses, but neighbors who had criticized her choice began to suggest nursing to their daughters based on her example. This determination to promote nursing has propelled Al-Gasseer beyond the borders of Bahrain to the top ranks of the World Health Organization, where she currently oversees Inter-Agency Affairs and Partnerships at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office and is a member of senior executive management. Al-Gasseer believes that nursing extends beyond curative care, and helps facilitate healthy living and prevent disease. This motivated her to continue her studies at the American University of Beirut and then at UIC. She is only the second person to hold a PhD in nursing in the six Persian Gulf nations. Upon her return to Bahrain, Al-Gasseer often was called upon to share her expertise, and became involved in health strategy and policy.  She was the first woman from the Gulf Region to address the Ministers of Health of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Al-Gasseer credits the excellent mentors and multidisciplinary education she received at UIC for her ability to become influential in women’s health issues. The degree helped open doors, she says. To expand her opportunities for creating change, Al-Gasseer joined WHO in 1996 as a technical officer in training and curriculum development in reproductive health and family planning. She quickly rose through the ranks to become Senior Scientist for Nursing and Midwifery at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, establishing global policy and strategy for nursing and midwifery development.

Her work has earned her numerous awards and accolades, including being named a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and receiving the Gulf Cooperation Council Arab Health Ministers Council Award for Excellence in Nursing. Being able to advance the field of nursing while shaping global health policy has been incredibly rewarding for Al-Gasseer. “I believe in making a difference,” she says. “In my current post, we can bring change. This is the pride I have in being a nurse within WHO.”

—Sara Langen

[article modified from the UIC Alumni Magazine]