In the Spotlight: Annette Russell

Annette Russell, RN, BSN, MSN, MHA, is a seasoned nurse who decided it was time for a big change in her career last year. Russell packed her bags and headed to Saudi Arabia to head up the general surgery nursing team at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre (KFSH&RC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In addition to pursing her Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in her “free time,” she supervises a team of 53 employees at KFSH&RC.

How long have you been a nurse?

I have been involved in health care for over 30 years starting as a nurse’s assistant for four years before nursing school in 1987.

What made you decide to go into the nursing field? What inspired you?

My mother was a nurse and my grandmother was a nurse’s assistant. I never thought about going into the field, but once I decided I started out as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and loved it so much that I wanted to do nothing else after that experience.

What has been your career path? What led you to where you are today?

I made the decision to leave Atlanta in August of 2011. My children at that time were 30 and 21 and were already done with college and on their own with good careers so I decided to look into travel nursing to experience different cultures and health care norms in other parts of the world, but also to travel for fun.

When I first connected with Professional Connections and Ann Griffin, I had never thought about a role in Saudi specifically, but as we worked through the process, it became clear that KFSH&RC offered an extraordinary opportunity to pursue a leadership role, and that KFSH&RC was doing tremendous work in innovation and research. Additionally, their commitment to the Magnet Journey was a deciding factor—for me this meant an organization that had the focus and commitment to quality patient care. The entire process took approximately six months with contract negotiations, and I finally left in April 2012 and just completed my first year. I absolutely love what I am doing. Western media often reports the negative side of living in a place like Saudi Arabia—after getting settled, my experience here has been terrific. While it is a closed country, and I’ve had to make some adaptions, my experience here has been positive. I know I am making a real difference.

Describe your current position and what impact you have as a nurse in your current role.

Currently I work as the Head Nurse for General Surgery at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

My area covers six specialties: Surgical Oncology, Thoracic, Endocrine, Breast, Ophthalmology, Vascular, and Minimal Invasive. The unit has 34 beds and 50 staff comprised of nurses, ward clerks, patient care assistants, and nurse aids.

My role includes day-to-day staff management, schedules, budgets, staffing, policies and procedure, and a huge amount of work educating and preparing for Magnet. We are very research-focused so we are always involved in research projects around clinical practice and improvements, which is very exciting. 

 Personally, the chance to mentor younger nurses and the nurses from Saudi Arabia as well as other countries has been extremely rewarding—the organization values all its nurses and has a keen interest in Western trained nurses.

Have you experienced any issues related to being a minority nurse? If so, explain.

Not really, especially here at KFSH&RC, we have a very diverse staff of physicians, nurses, and other medical staff—some 63 nationalities are represented in our workforce, so in a way, many of us are minorities here. Then again, I think this is an issue only if you let it be one. I have had a terrific experience here at KFSH&RC because there are so many places I can contribute —and the Saudis are so open to the expertise that Western trained nurses bring.

What general advice do you have for other minority nurses? 

Work hard and the world is yours for the taking – literally! At the end of the day, while I am senior in my career, the world is global now and being able to demonstrate expertise gained working in an international hospital would be a big plus for any nurses on my team.

Don’t limit yourself to one type of practice area; get familiar to areas outside of your comfort zone. If you are a med/surg nurse, look at learning Interventional Radiology etc., to increase your potential for other opportunities.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

Within 5 years I plan to return to the US having paid off my student loans and mortgage. I plan to be debt-free. For work I plan to return to the classroom to hopefully share the good news of nursing in all its forms to young people looking for a career to satisfy their souls. Nursing has totally satisfied my soul.

At 10 years, I will be retired living in the South spending time with hopefully a grandchild. My children are not yet ready for babies but I am hopeful that by the time I retire I will have at least one. At this time I will be 61 years young.


Denene Brox is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, Kansas.