Day in the life: Zulekha Hospitals executive driven by best healthcare practice

It’s a family business for Zanubia Shams, the co-chair at Zulekha Hospitals, along with her mother, Dr Zulekha Daud, who set up the first hospital in Sharjah in 1992. Ms Shams works alongside husband Taher who is managing director at the hospital – they met working there in 1996 and have been married 15 years. Ms Shams, 44, lives in Sharjah with her husband and two children, a son 12, and daughter, aged five, and splits her work time between the Sharjah and Dubai hospitals. The group also includes four medical centres, three pharmacies and the new Alexis hospital in Nagpur in Maharashtra, India.


I get up with the children. In term time they leave for school at 6.30am, but in the holidays they stay at home with their grandparents, who live with us too. I have breakfast with my husband – cereal, an egg on toast or oatmeal. We read the newspapers and chat – about a mix of personal and work. We’re a good working team and living team. I also try to chat to my brother in the morning – he’s an oncologist and university professor in San Francisco and I like to catch him before he goes to bed.


It’s just a five-minute drive from our villa in the Al Fisht area, near the Corniche, to the Sharjah hospital on Al Zahra Street. We drive separately, as his schedule is different from mine. I have around 20 people reporting directly to me – such as the heads of marketing, IT, administration and finance. My husband and I share an office and boardroom in both locations and a lot of our meetings are together. I have an open-door policy. I don’t tend to have many formal meetings, just a few like the directors’ coordination meeting each week. It depends on my staff – some are very particular and some just rock by each day to give me a brief or discuss a problem. I try to accommodate every working style.

If I can, I spend a lot of time studying data – our own, ministry numbers, newspaper articles – to help develop systems and best practices. I’m a manager driven by numbers. Statistics give you patterns and tell you what patients and customers want. For instance, with the UAE moving from a six-day economy to 24/7, we decided to start Friday clinics so parents could bring children in for vaccines or do antenatal check-ups etc. Friday is now a day like any other.


I always pop in to chat to my mother for a mother-daughter talk – some work, some personal. I took over operational duties from her 10 years ago. She has been in the UAE 50 years and wanted to provide family care at affordable costs. Ours is a community hospital and, even today, caters to the largest number of people in Sharjah and a substantial number in Dubai. On average we see 2,000 patients a day between both Sharjah and Dubai. Seventy per cent are insured – everyone on a visa in Dubai will have to be insured by their employer by the end of the year, as is already the case in Abu Dhabi. That will happen in the remaining emirates in the next three to five years.

12 noon

I have soup or a salad for lunch, normally in Sharjah, whether at home, at my desk or in the canteen. I try to limit my coffee to two cups a day and to limit snacking – I keep bad stuff away from the office. There’s no sense in having a salad then snacking on goodies. I normally meet my husband for lunch.


I drive to our Dubai office after lunch: I always plan it to beat the traffic, so it takes about 20 minutes to Al Qusais. Some of the staff are shared between the two hospitals but others are separate – for instance, there are different administration issues centric to the hospital and emirate itself.


I leave Dubai, again trying to time the traffic, and am home by 4 or 4.30pm. I like to spend time with the children and see my in-laws. We’ll hang out, maybe go to the supermarket or swim in our pool.


My husband gets home now, and we’ll eat by 7pm. We have a cook, who makes us chapattis and chicken or fish curry with okra or beans most nights – straightforward, simple fare.


After dinner, the children have about another 45 minutes then it’s lights out. We all head upstairs to our bedrooms. I deal with the children and my husband normally does a little work and checks email. Once the children are asleep, I’ll read – my last book was Wolf Hall – or watch something on the iPad like the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight. I find it hard to watch serials, although I might binge-watch a show on holiday, but generally don’t really do TV. We start early so I’m in bed by 10.30pm.

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