Interview: 3 Egyptian American Doctors Excelling in the Field of Medicine in the U.S. | Dina Al Mahdy

March 2, 2021
By: Dina Al Mahdy

Egyptian American women are active members of the society. Professionally, they work in every field. You find them as judges, politicians, doctors, lawyers, accountants, university professors, teachers, academics, heads of corporations, entrepreneurs, babysitters, supermarket workers, waitresses in restaurants and owners of private businesses.

Women of Egypt interviewed three doctors who are excelling in their fields, breaking stereotypes, and who are while living the American dream, they are all proud of their Egyptian heritage. In the interview they tell us about their families, communities, how it feels growing up in the US, and the challenges they faced as women in their medical careers.


Dr. Eman Attaya

Dr. Eman Attaya

Born and raised in the US, Radiologist Eman Attaya is involved in organized medicine. She serves as the Chair on the Council of Health Promotion for the Texas Medical Association. She is also the Chair of the Committee on Public Health and Community Relations for Lubbock, Texas. These committees help promote programs to keep Texans healthy. Recognizing the importance of paving a better future for the next generation in her community, she served as Vice President for the executive council of her town mosque. 

In addition to practicing medicine, she spends her free time writing and illustrating poem and picture books for children. Her latest book, “It’s  Such A beautiful Day Outside” encourages healthy habits for children such as staying physically active, eating healthy, appreciating nature and limiting screen time. 

Dr. Eman Attaya

WoE: Do you feel it is important to maintain the Egyptian identity/heritage? 
EA: Yes absolutely. My parents helped maintain our Egyptian heritage in many ways. We would spend all of our summers in Egypt when we were younger. We learned the culture, language, developed strong ties with our extended family there and traveled throughout Egypt.  Our parents would only speak to us in Arabic, and I feel fortunate that they did, as now my siblings and I are bilingual. We also grew up watching Egyptian movies, series, and plays which helped us feel connected to the Egyptian culture as well. If I have kids in the future, God willing, I plan on repeating the same culture emersion with them!

WoE: Do you celebrate Egyptian holidays? 
EA: We always celebrate Eid by making Egyptian sweets such as kahk, kunafa, and qatayef and of course all the religious rituals involved with the Eids. 

WoE: Being a female doctor especially during these unusual times, how the pandemic could influence the current and next generations of healthcare professionals? 
EA: I am a radiologist, so the pandemic has not significantly affected my practice of medicine, however, for many other specialties, there has been a significant shift towards telemedicine. This has helped keep both doctors and patients stay safe from exposure to the virus.

Dr. Eman Attaya

WoE: Describe something (a moment or an event) that made you feel proud of being an Egyptian. 
EA: Every time I visit Egypt, I feel very proud to be an Egyptian as the people are some of the most kind, generous, intelligent, hardworking, and humorous people I know. They are an extremely humble people as well. Any time I see a documentary on ancient Egypt, I also feel very proud to know that I come from a lineage of some of the most brilliant people on earth! One recent proud moment that comes to mind is when the genius founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, said that the pyramids must’ve been built by aliens! It’s hard for him and all of us to imagine that such an amazing architectural feat could be built by the ancient Egyptians. 

WoE: If you would meet an Egyptian official, what would you like to ask him/her?
EA: I know that recently several Egyptian female ministers were appointed to Egypt’s cabinet, so If I had a chance, I would thank the prime minister for making the cabinet more inclusive. Female leaders always enrich a country by adding creativity, diplomacy, patience, and great problem solving skills.

WoE: How did it feel growing in an Egyptian family in America?
EA: We grew up in a relatively smaller town without a large immigrant population so I felt we were valued in our community. We were one of maybe two or three Egyptian families in our city. We were able to enjoy and appreciate the best of both the American and Egyptian cultures. In school, our show and tell always consisted of showing Egyptian souvenirs and relics, talking about our experiences in Egypt, and dispelling any myths about Egyptian life. Growing up with both cultures has definitely been an enriching experience.

WoE: Is there anything else you would like to add? 
EA: Recently, I was honored to be invited to give a virtual radiology lecture to the Egyptian Society of Chest Diseases. I was so impressed with how well-run and professional the meeting was and how knowledgeable the physicians were. It was a great reflection of how Egyptians remain at the forefront of medicine and science.

Dr. Engy Habashy

Dr. Engy Habashy

Dr. Engy Habashy, MD, 35, is urologic surgeon in Cincinnati, Ohio. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Central Florida. She moved to the US with her family at the age of 15.

WoE: As an Egyptian woman living abroad, what are/were the major challenges that you faced, be it professional or personally? 
EH:
Initially the language barrier during high school. After high school, I chose to join the US Navy as a medic on a college scholarship. At that time (2002) there was significant stigma for an Arab to join the US Armed Forces. Obviously, being in the military as a female came with its set of challenges. Finally, after the military and medical school, I chose to sub-specialize in urologic surgery and male infertility, which is a heavily male-dominated field. 

Dr. Engy Habashy

WoE: Do you feel it is important to maintain the Egyptian identity/heritage? What would you do to make your kids proud of the Egyptian heritage? 
EH: I do believe in maintaining linkage to our heritage, language, and culture. I do hope to have children one day. My sister has children in the UK. She travels to Egypt annually with the children. She enrolled my nephews in Arabic school. I believe that being with a partner who embraces the language, heritage, and tradition is very important. 

WoE: Do you celebrate Egyptian holidays? If yes, how do you celebrate them? 
EH: Being a busy physician makes this difficult as you cannot always take time to celebrate during Egyptian traditional holidays. However, recently during the quarantine, my mother was visiting from Egypt and ended up being here over Ramadan due to travel restrictions. We observed Ramadan, Eid El Fitr, and Eid El Adha together with traditional meals, music, and TV shows.

WoE: Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society (and most particularly the healthcare profession) in Egypt and the US?
EH: Women are still underrepresented in many medical fields in the US, especially surgical fields. Women still endure being compensated less for equal or more work than their male counterparts. Those inequalities are being recognized more and more and there are some active efforts to ensuring medical schools matriculating classes are split evenly as well as residency complements. It is safe to say there is still a lot of work to be done on women’s equality in the healthcare field in both Egypt and the US. 

Dr. Engy Habashy

WoE: Being a female doctor especially during these unusual times, how the pandemic could influence the current and next generations of healthcare professionals?
EH: I think the pandemic was an eye-opener for all health care professionals. First, it highlighted the importance of choosing your desired specialty. Emergency physicians and hospitalists were under significantly more stress than sub-specialists. It also highlighted the importance of choosing your employment environment (hospital-employed vs. private practice). Private practices came under immense economic stress with the abrupt halting of the US economy. Hospital-employed physicians might not have experienced quite the same level of financial stress, but they experienced increase in the acuity, complexity, and volume of their workload. Most importantly, the pandemic highlighted the importance of our calling and the magnitude of what we do on daily basis. Sometimes the numerous daily challenges and many tasks can cloud the joy of what we do, but when the entire world shuts down, but we still have to go to work, it really gives one a sense of pride and makes the years and effort spent to become a physician worth it. 

WoE: Describe something (a moment or an event) that made you feel proud of being an Egyptian. 
EH: Egyptian urologists are some of the most prominent urologists in the world due to the high prevalence of bladder cancer in Egypt. On one of my residency interviews, my interviewer remarked “You are an Egyptian, huh? We can probably blind-fold you and you will still be able to operate perfectly”. I felt such pride at that moment for the accomplishment of countrymen in the field of medicine and surgery. Also, watching Mo Salah help Liverpool Football Club win the 2019/2020 Premiere League Championship made me proud to be an Egyptian.

Dr. Engy Habashy

WoE: If you would meet an Egyptian official, what would you like to ask him/her?
EH: What are we doing to encourage successful Egyptians who excelled internationally in different fields to contribute to propelling Egypt forward? 

WoE: How did it feel growing in the US? What were the cultural gaps that challenged you and how did you adapt?
EH: I am sort of in the grey zone. I moved here at 15 years of age. Not quite an adult, but old enough to have been immersed in the Egyptian culture. My unique challenge was not quite fitting into either mold (fully Egyptian or fully American). I feel like a unique hybrid. This presents a challenge when meeting new friends or potential significant others. Friends and family in Egypt will not understand certain aspects and habits of your personality. Neither will your American friends. It’s a constant challenge and one just needs to surround themselves with positive people who are open-minded and who will embrace you for who you are. 

WoE: Is there anything else you would like to add?
EH: Thank you for allowing me the chance to share with you a little bit about my story and highlighting the stories of Egyptian female physicians. I would love to be a part of a network that connects Egyptian female physicians/professionals in the US if one exists.   

Dr. Yasmeen Abdel-Aty

Yassmeen Abdel-Aty

Dr. Yassmeen Abdel-Aty, MD, 29, is an otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon in Scottsdale, AZ. An otolaryngologist provides comprehensive medical and surgical care for patients with diseases and disorders that affect the ears, nose, throat, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems and related structures of the head and neck. She graduated from St. Luke’s Hospital/Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Medical School in 2017.

WoE: How old were you when you moved to the US?
YA: I moved to the US with my parents when I was 11 months old. I grew up spending my summers in Egypt and have continued that tradition throughout my life. 

WoE: Being an Egyptian woman living abroad, what are/were the major challenges that you faced, be it professional or personally? 
YA: Professionally I have faced challenges that mostly revolve around being a female surgeon. Although there are many more females in surgical fields we still compromise roughly a third of all surgeons. Patients and hospital staff often envision a middle age white male when they think of the word “surgeon.” Due to that there are many biases that may be unconscious when it comes to pay, promotion, and prestigious leadership positions. Day to day the way hospital staff react to male surgeons is different than to female surgeons. A man can leave a procedure without cleaning up or talking to anyone and no one thinks anything of it. A women must stay at the end of the procedure to clean up and ask the staff about their kids and their new pet if they do not want to be considered rude. I recently wrote an article about my experience as a surgical resident called “The Change: A perspective on Women Surgeons from a Resident Physician” that was published in In House Magazine.

Yassmeen Abdel-Aty

Professionally these challenges can be overcome by working harder and being better. That does not work for the personal challenges faced. As a Muslim Egyptian American who values her religion and both of her cultures I would like to marry someone with similar background to me. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find someone that is also okay with marrying a successful women who may even have the potential to make more income than them. Egyptian women in the US as well as in Egypt are very strong and influential. They are also very kind and take care of everyone around them, often ahead of themselves. I wish our culture supported their goals and aspirations as much as these women support those of others.

WoE: Do you feel it is important to maintain the Egyptian identity/heritage? 
YA: I do feel it is important to maintain my Egyptian identity as this is a big part of who I am. I think the wonderful thing about diversity in the US is that everyone brings unique perspective to the table. For me that is my heritage. My parents, especially my mother, dedicated a lot of effort for my brother and I to be proud of our background. She taught us how to speak, read, and write Arabic. Although my writing could use some work, I can visit Egypt without people picking up that I am from abroad based on my accent. My parents also made it a goal to visit family and friends in Egypt every summer so we could remain tied to our culture. They introduced us to other Egyptian children growing up who later became lifelong friends. At home my mother cooked Egyptian cuisine and we watched old black and white Egyptian movies together. 

WoE: Do you celebrate Egyptian holidays? 
YA: I do! I celebrate them with my family and Egyptian friends. It is always a fun excuse to get together!

WoE: Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society (and most particularly the healthcare profession) in Egypt and the US?
YA: I did not. My grandmother has a PhD in engineering and is a professor at Alexandria University and her sister was a doctor. My mother was raised in Egypt where she got her bachelors in computer science. Growing up in the US my earliest memories were of my mother getting her PhD and starting her career as a professor. Both of my parents contributed to household tasks and raising my brother and I. I also had plenty of American friends growing up who were raised by stay at home moms. 

Yassmeen Abdel-Aty

WoE: Describe something (a moment or an event) that made you feel proud of being an Egyptian. 
YA: Every time Egypt won the African Nations Championship (football). 

WoE: If you would meet an Egyptian official, what would you like to ask him/her?
YA: I would like to ask them to please support and value children’s education as well as reward them for scholarly accomplishments. We are a talented people who with little education can do great things for Egypt. 

WoE: How did it feel growing in an Egyptian family in the American society?
YA: I always joked that our house was little Egypt in the middle of the US. Our home was decorated in a traditional style and smelled like Egyptian cooking. We listened to Arabic music and watched Egyptian movies. My parents also insisted on only speaking Arabic at home. If I ever get homesick for my Egyptian homeland now I can just go to my parents’ house and visit little Egypt. Growing up, my friends would come over and enjoyed visiting little Egypt as well. Although sometimes it is hard as a child to be different I mostly enjoyed the opportunity to take the best of both cultures. 

WoE: Is there anything else you would like to add?
YA: I feel very blessed to have an Egyptian background that has shaped who I am today. It has made me a better physician, family member, and friend.

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