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Fit for work

Promoting workforce health and wellness is critical for success, especially during COVID-19

Dr Mariam Al Maazmi is having a rare afternoon off work, relaxing at the beach with her daughter. For anyone with a busy career and young family this would be a luxury, but for Dr Al Maazmi it is an especially treasured day.

As a Senior Supervisor for Occupational Health at Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), Dr Al Maazmi has devoted herself over these past months to coordinating and overseeing the routine COVID-19 testing of EGA’s more than 7,000 employees in the United Arab Emirates. At the height of the pandemic, from March to June, she didn’t have a single day off. Months later, she still has a 9 a.m. meeting every weekday to coordinate EGA’s ongoing response to the virus. She shoulders much of the responsibility for making sure the company is prepared for any eventuality.

But far from buckling under the weight of responsibility, Dr Al Maazmi has thrived under the pressure, energised by new opportunities to draw on previous lessons she learned when pursuing her Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at Dubai Medical College; and later, her Master’s in Occupational Health from the United Kingdom’s University of Birmingham. More than anything, Dr Al Maazmi says, this new workload has brought new meaning to her childhood dream of working in medicine.

A career is born

Born in Sharjah and raised in Abu Dhabi, with stints in the United Kingdom and Sweden, Dr Al Maazmi says she wanted to be a doctor for as long as she can remember. Specifically, she harkens back to a memory from high school, when a career counsellor asked her class to list their top three dream jobs: “I listed ‘doctor’ three times! When they forced me to choose something else, I wrote ‘doctor’ as my first two choices and ‘astronaut’ in third place.”

After studying medicine at Dubai Medical College, Dr Al Maazmi spent 2 years working at the Dubai Health Authority before deciding in 2013 to specialise in aviation medicine—an interest no doubt inspired by her father, who had built his career as a pilot.

She applied for Master’s in Aviation medicine at UK’s King’s College London. Shortly after her acceptance she received a notice from the university that her acceptance is postponed to year 2014. Rather than being upset, however, Dr Al Maazmi saw it as an opportunity to explore other options and go anyway to the UK which was conditioned by her mother to go with her younger sister who has just graduated from her bachelor degree.


Flash forward a few months, and both Dr Al Maazmi and her sister had been newly accepted at universities in the UK, with Dr Al Maazmi opting to pursue a Master’s in Occupational Health at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Al Maazmi reflects fondly on her time studying in the UK and travelling across Europe—a time of her life that culminated in 2015 at that year’s UAE-UK Pioneers Forum, where she and her sister were honoured with respective academic-achievement awards by the UAE Embassy in London. At the award ceremony, both sisters also got to meet representatives from leading UAE companies who were there to recruit talented graduates.

“I spoke to lots of people, but none of them worked in anything related to my field. Then we stopped at the EGA stand because my sister wanted to speak to them. After talking for a while, the representative, Sultan Al Sabri, who I came to subsequently know and greatly respect, asked what I was doing there. I replied that I was a doctor and he said they needed someone in occupational medicine, and that I would be the first female and the first Emirati in that department.”

One year later, Dr Al Maazmi joined EGA, with the promise that she could be active across the company’s operations.


Health and wellness

After renewing her medical license, Dr. Al Maazmi began work in EGA’s occupational health clinic, working on pre-employment medicals, occupational health surveillance and workplace assessments. But she says that within the first six months, Salman Abdulla, EGA’s Executive Vice President of Health, Safety, Sustainability, Environment, Quality and Business Transformation, introduced her to virtually every Executive Committee member at EGA, including the CEO. “It was the kind of opportunity you don’t get anywhere else. That exposure and recognition kept me going,” she says enthusiastically. 


At the end of 2017, EGA opened a new medical centre at its Al Taweelah site in Abu Dhabi. Dr. Al Maazmi was asked to take leadership of the facility, a position she still holds, along with running the occupational health department and wellbeing of EGA’s employees. “Our Safety performance is consistently much better than the industry average,” says Dr. Al Maazmi. “But the only acceptable goal is zero harm, and we still have more to do.”

“All new employees undergo a pre-employment assessment, to make sure they are fit for specific job they will do,” she says of her department’s activities. “And then we have periodic occupational health surveillances checks to make sure they stay fit and healthy for as long as they work with us and beyond. We also do a lot of preventative measures such as regular health campaigns & awareness, and we are planning to start physiotherapy as well.”

Dr. Al Maazmi say she would like to initiate more programmes along the lines of the workshops on mental wellbeing and resilience that they initiated last year, to break the taboos around mental health. “My vision is to stop looking at our division as being a ‘health department’ that treats illnesses and injuries and instead become a ‘wellbeing and happiness department’. If people are happy and well, they work better and are more fulfilled,” she says of her goal for the future.


Combatting COVID-19


A company as large and important to the economy as EGA cannot suddenly stop operations. So although no one was sure how the COVID-19 pandemic would unfold back in March this year, Dr. Al Maazmi said that the health team under the leadership of EVP Salman quickly realised that they would need to instigate a major testing programme to keep the staff safe while working. “We realised this would be a big undertaking,” she says, but was undaunted by the prospect. In fact, she volunteered to lead the department effort even though she was the youngest person at her level. “Some people were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to commit to the hours that it would involve or the pressure it would bring being a lady and a mother, but I reassured them that I was all in, and they entrusted me with leading the taskforce.”

The next few weeks and months were a blur of activity, as Dr. Al Maazmi initiated and then ramped up EGA’s capabilities to around 500 tests per day, along with all the scheduling, planning, testing and communicating news to employees. “I would call them personally, at all hours of the day or night, and it was important to them that they got a call from a doctor, but then I was grateful to assemble a COVID-19 support team in EGA to handle different process” she says. “We also had to organise isolation procedures for anyone who tested positive, and I would liaise with the UAE Health Authority, to report the case numbers. For three months we worked crazy hours, seven days a week; there were so many decisions to make, but we assembled a great team to help make it happen. Most importantly, extensive, proactive testing and tracing enabled management to take informed decisions to protect our people and get COVID-19 under control.” 

One positive outcome of the previous months is the information that EGA gathered from its testing procedures. Dr. Mariam speaks admiringly of Salman Abdulla’s insistence that they capture as much data as possible from their monitoring of employees who tested positive. “He understood that we could provide some valuable material for research into possible treatments and we have plans of sharing this data with the authorities and interested research bodies.  He reminded us that we are doing this for the future generations.”


Work/life balance


Thankfully now that the COVID-19 situation has calmed slightly, Dr. Al Maazmi says she can start to find some work/life balance once again. Her hardest moment during the pandemic was having to leave her now one year old daughter with her parents for two weeks so that she could focus on work and not expose her to the virus, a responsibility which later fell on her husband fulltime. “I don’t know what I would have done without the support I had from my family and specially my precious husband. Who was there for me through it all, he was the husband, the advisor, the counsellor and the comfort zone whenever I thought I couldn’t go on.”.

More generally she would like to get back to her hobbies, which include horse riding, crafting, reading and cooking. Professionally speaking, she is focusing on her longer-term career aims, and says she is “so proud” to work for a company that places so much value on creating opportunity for people, regardless of their background or gender. “My company trusts me, and they drive me. They are also very respectful. I’ve had situations when someone in a meeting, where I’m the only woman, has said, ‘Thank you gentlemen’ and I reply, ‘And lady’. They laugh about it, but next time they will respect my point by saying ‘Lady and gentlemen’. I know I have their full support and it means a lot.”

When questioned about her career ambition, she replies in an instant, “To lead the happiness and wellbeing department, of course!” She laughs at how quickly she answered, but it’s clear that she is not joking. Dr, Al Maazmi studied and worked hard to get to her present position. And she is ready to serve, and lead, for the next phase of EGA’s development.

But all that can wait. Today she will enjoy her well-earned family time at the beach