Here and There: Never give up striving

A newly minted doctor applies her skill at overcoming personal challenges to the larger challenge we all face now.

Mai Mazareeb against the backdrop of Beit Zarzir (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mai Mazareeb against the backdrop of Beit Zarzir
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In February, I had the pleasure of meeting Mai Mazareeb, a 33-year-old surgeon completing her last months of hospital residency before qualifying as a general surgeon. She was about to embark, with 11 other young Israeli surgeons, for a week’s training visit to the United Kingdom; a project sponsored by the Israel, Britain and Commonwealth Association through its John Furman Scholarship Fund.
IBCA is headed by Prof. Alex Deutsch, a general and colorectal surgeon who initiated the project in 2009. Deutsch recognized the significance of giving young surgeons the opportunity of meeting UK specialists in colorectal surgery. The course has proven to be of significant value, enabling participants to enhance their knowledge in this area. A number have progressed to become chiefs of colorectal surgery in hospitals throughout Israel.
Mazareeb is a Bedouin from Beit Zarzir, a town in Israel’s North with a population of 7,942. It is composed of five tribes (families) – the Jawamis, Grifat, Eyadat, Heib and Mazareeb – whose forbears came to the area more than a century ago. Former council head Aref Grifet reminds us of the Bedouin population’s longstanding loyalty to Israel. During the War of Independence, Palmah commander Yigal Alon, together with Sheik Hussein Ismail El Heib, established a Bedouin company of the Palmah named Palheb – active in the front lines, particularly in scouting and intelligence. Today, a “Mazareeb” heads the local council.
Mai Mazareeb belongs to the Mazareeb clan. The eldest of seven, she, together with her siblings, are high achievers. One brother is a neuro-surgeon, one a physician about to obtain his medical license, and the youngest is still at school. Her three sisters’ professions embrace pharmacology, internal medicine and dentistry.
Her parents are both educators. Her mother teaches in a junior school; her father teaches in a high school and heads the local council’s Education Department. Mazareeb says her parents worked day and night to ensure that their children would obtain the very best education.
MAZAREEB LOVES to learn and is still in touch with the teacher who encouraged and guided her in her final years at school. She was the first person to study 57 scholastic units for the Bagrut exam. Her motivation to become a doctor followed six months of working with physically and mentally handicapped children. She came to appreciate the difficulties and challenges faced by their families. Today, when seeing patients in the emergency room or in the clinic she heads, she gives priority to handicapped patients, ensuring that their waiting period is kept to the minimum. Further motivation for this was witnessing the suffering endured by her beloved grandmother toward the end of her life.
Initially she planned to study medicine in Israel, but was unable to secure a university spot. A contributing factor for this, she believes, was the suspicion that her traditional background might prevent her from living away from home during the obligatory hospital residential training period. As a result, Mazareeb chose to study in Jordan, where she spent six years at an international course taught in English.
On completion of the fourth year, she decided to become a surgeon. She views surgery as a blend of hand and mind – an art that necessitates both brain power and physical proficiency. The percentage of female physicians practicing surgery in Israel is low (around 20%), but for Mazareeb this challenge added to its attraction.
Following her return to Israel, she interned at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where she received her medical license. In 2013, she commenced her surgical residency at a hospital in Israel’s Center, where she is completing her final months prior to qualifying as a general surgeon.
Her recent Fellowship IBCA visit to London gave her the opportunity to interact with the eminent Prof. Bill Heald, who pioneered total mesenteric excision for colorectal decease; a concept that has now been adopted in Israel. Mazareeb says, “To meet someone of his eminence was simply mind-blowing. I am truly indebted to Prof. Deutsch for giving me this unique opportunity.”
HOW HAS the coronavirus impacted on her profession? Her hospital, like others, is now geared toward combating the coronavirus. More beds are needed for this pandemic, with only the most pressing unrelated procedures permitted. The situation has necessitated dramatic changes. The hitherto individual departments have, to a great extent, merged into one with a unified team concentrating on the pandemic.
“Like soldiers, we have a core focus – to beat this invisible but treacherous enemy,” says Mazareeb. “Doctors are working 12-hour shifts; they and the nurses return home exhausted.” As only urgent non-pandemic-related operations are permitted, Mazareeb is on call for coronavirus patients requiring surgery.
The lack of protective clothing for those working with coronavirus patients was initially a major challenge for all hospitals, resulting in doctors and nurses falling victim to the virus. However, the situation has improved and today more protective gear and ventilators are available. Mazareeb hopes that we achieve success in our battle against the coronavirus soon so we can return to normal life. She prays for all of the patients to recover swiftly.
Mazareeb is an exemplary role model for women in general, but specifically, for those emanating from backgrounds like hers. Her achievement is to be admired at every level. When I asked her to identify the driving force in her success story that might inspire others to follow in her footsteps, she replied “Education, education, education! Never give up striving for what you wish to achieve in the future, whatever challenges are to be confronted.”
Finally, Mazareeb wished to express her gratitude to those who made her success story a reality.
“My deep appreciation, first and foremost, goes to my dear parents, who were there for me throughout this journey, giving their unlimited support. To my amazing mentors Prof. Haim Gutman and Dr. Nissem Hanannel, whose professionalism and encouragement have brought me to this moment in my career. I will always be indebted to them and hope that I will be able to live up to their inspirational examples.”
The writer is public relations chairwoman of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society.