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  • Writer's pictureYousra Abdelmoneim

Sudan's First and Youngest Female Doctor- Dr. Zarouhi Sarkissian

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

My grandmother Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian was born in Bahri Khartoum in the year 1929. Her Armenian father Vahan Sarkissian married Attiat Mohamed Najm of Egyptian descent. To reiterate she was born and raised in Sudan as seen in her national ID shown below:

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian National ID showing she is Sudanese

Her father sadly passed away on 2/10/1930 after she was born on 8/9/1929 leaving behind his widowed wife and two daughters Taqwi Sarkissian and Zarouhi Sarkissian and his step daughter named Rifqa (also known as Zainub Mustafa Bayomi). Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian graduated from Unity High School and entered Kitchener School of Medicine (now known as the University of Khartoum) in the year 1946. At the time she was the youngest student to be enrolled into this school at the age of 17 which was uncommon as most students would enroll to university between the ages of 18-20. She graduated from Kitchener School of Medicine in the year 1952 making history as the first Sudanese and youngest female doctor to graduate among eight other male doctors and alongside her colleague Dr Khalda Zahir who was three years older. Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian and Dr Khalda Zahir were both seen as pioneers in their field particularly given the challenges at the time around female empowerment and male dominance in society.

Graduates of Kitchener School of Medicine in 1952

She went on after graduation to work in Wad Madani and operated her own private clinic. During this period she established herself and through her dedication to her patients and strong work ethic she inspired many other women to follow in her footsteps and pursue medicine as a career. She was featured in the famous Egyptian magazine Al Masawar (المصور) in an article about her career as the first female Sudanese doctor in the issue of 9/9/1955.

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian with her team of nurses

She wanted to pursue Obstetrics and Gynaecology, however, in 1955 she married Saad Mustafa Aboulela and dedicated her life thereafter to raising her three children Leila, Nader and Nada Saad Aboulela. Although she left the medical field she maintained her strong relationships and ties with her colleagues in the medical field e.g Dr Ahmed Abdelaziz Yacoub, Dr Sayda Dirdirri, Dr Taha Talat, Dr Fouad Abdo Idris, Dr Salah Abdelrahman, Dr Ali Taha, Dr Widad Gronfoli, Dr Abdelsalam Saleh, Dr Abdelhalim Mohamed Halim and many more. This is a true testament to her continued passion for the field throughout her life.

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian with her husband Saad Mustafa Aboulela
Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian with her daughter Leila Saad Aboulela

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian converted to Islam in 1960. After she declared her conversion to Islam she was renamed Thuraya Mohamed Saad. She was infamous for her generosity, friendliness, hospitality, culinary skills and infectious sense of humour. She performed a lot of charitable deeds and was humble towards everyone which was largely driven by her upbringing. She was a pet lover and owned many pets throughout her life.

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian with one of her many pets at home

But above all she was brave. She was a true feminist and never feared challenging the status quo. An example of this is during a terrorist attack on the Saudi Embassy in 1973 in Sudan she was called upon by the wife of the Saudi Ambassador to attend to her asthmatic son. Despite the risks, Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian rushed to the scene without any hesitation to provide medical support but was stopped at the barricade and not allowed to enter due to the hostage situation.

Dr Zarouhi Sarkissian passed away in London on 1st December 1986 at St Mary’s Hospital and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery in London.

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