Israel’s first Arab breast surgeon has a gift for shattering glass ceilings

Israel’s first Arab breast surgeon has a gift for shattering glass ceilings

Dr. Marian Khatib has been appointed the director of the Breast Surgery Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

There is no glass ceiling that Dr. Marian Khatib believes she cannot shatter.

The 40-year-old mother of two, raised in a small Arab village outside Acre, has just been appointed the director of the Breast Surgery Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

She is the first Arab breast surgeon in the country and the only oncoplastic breast surgeon in Israel’s public health system who performs both the resection and the reconstruction for breast cancer patients.

“I am proud that the public medical system in general and Ichilov Hospital, in particular, do not have a glass ceiling,” Khatib said. “I ask every girl, no matter where she grew up and what her background is, to see me and to believe that anything is possible and that the sky’s the limit.”

Sourasky is referred to as Ichilov in Israel.

Khatib was born in the United States to Arab-Israeli parents, who returned to Israel when she was just a baby. At a young age, her parents had her assessed, she was diagnosed as gifted and they decided to invest in her education. They moved to Acre and sent her to school in Haifa, where she could receive enrichment classes.

After she graduated, she began studying medicine at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. By her fourth year, Khatib said she was not convinced that she would even continue studying to be a doctor. But then, in year five, she encountered surgery.

“I was fascinated by general surgery and decided that a surgeon is what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. “There is something very interesting about surgery that does not exist in internal medicine. You feel you can help the patient immediately and see instant results.

 

 “When I started in surgery, there were a few women who worked as surgeons and even fewer who specialized in a disease that is so feminine and intimate. Over the years I realized that I wanted to be there – a woman for the women,” she continued.

But even beyond the craft, she said that she appreciates in breast surgery that “you don’t only work with your hands, you also support the patient from beginning to end – they become part of your life and you part of their life.”

What keeps her going is knowing that she has helped people recover from their illnesses.

Khatib said being Arab has never been a barrier to building these connections. In fact, she said that before her appointment became public, she rarely considered her religion as part of her profession. Before then, she said she is not even sure that her patients knew her personal history.

“Happily, I was educated so that if you work hard – you will go far,” Khatib said. “The fact that I was a woman from a conservative Muslim society was not a barrier to me at any stage.”

KHATIB WAS integrated into Jewish society from an early age. She used to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take a bus from Acre to Haifa and then return around 5 p.m. to do homework, go to bed, and return to school the next day.
“I had very little social life and not so much time to think about everything,” she said with a laugh.

After medical school, she joined Sourasky, which was back in 2007, and has been there ever since  – except for two years that she furthered her studies in the United Kingdom. She and her family live in northern Tel Aviv and she rarely goes back to the North, although her parents still live there.

She said Sourasky “feels like home. I love this place. The fact that I don’t feel like ‘an Arab’ in my daily life is thanks to this hospital that never has given me the feeling of being different.”

About 10 months ago, she started working part-time at Holy Family Hospital in Nazareth, which she said reconnected her to the Arab community. It was then that she realized how much pride they felt in her accomplishments.

“I got very positive feedback” from the Arab community “after the appointment,” Khatib said.

Her eight-year-old son is studying at the Tabeetha School Jaffa, where he studies in English and learns Arabic and Hebrew, too. Her daughter attends Jewish preschool.

“We live in Tel Aviv and I am not going to look for Arab schools somewhere else,” she explained. “Also, I want them to be part of our general community, not marginalized into a certain stream. I want them to live without having to define themselves.”

She said she will not push them toward medicine, but toward a career that makes them happy.

“Medicine does not feel like work because this is my passion,” Khatib said. “It is very important they love what they are doing – whatever it is.”

She also thanked her parents for pushing her and investing in her, and her husband who has continued to support her along the way. She started her residence at Sourasky as a single woman and met her spouse along the way.

“Marian is an intelligent and empathetic doctor who loves her profession and the patients very much,” said Prof. Guy Lahat, the director of the General Surgery Division at the hospital. He called her a “true professional,” and said he is confident she will continue to develop herself and the breast center.

“I am excited to enter one of the most coveted positions in public medicine,” Khalid concluded. “For me, this is a dream come true.”

After she graduated, she began studying medicine at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. By her fourth year, Khatib said she was not convinced that she would even continue learning to be a doctor. But then, in year five, she encountered surgery.

“I was fascinated by general surgery and decided that a surgeon is what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. “There is something very interesting about surgery that does not exist in internal medicine. You feel you can help the patient immediately and see instant results.

“When I started in surgery, there were a few women who worked as surgeons and even less who specialized in a disease that is so feminine and intimate, over the years I realized that I wanted to be there – a woman for the women,” she continued.

But even beyond the craft, she said that she appreciates in breast surgery that “you don’t only work with your hands, you also support the patient from beginning to end – they become part of your life and you part of their life.”

What keeps her going is knowing she has helped people recover from their illnesses. 

Khatib said being Arab has never been a barrier to building these connections. In fact, she said that before her appointment became public, she rarely considered her religion as part of her profession. Before then, she said she is not even sure that her patients knew her personal history. 

“Happily, I was educated so that if you work hard – you will go far,” Khatib said. “The fact that I was a woman from a conservative Muslim society was not a barrier to me at any stage.”

Khatib was integrated in Jewish society from an early age. She used to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take a bus from Acre to Haifa and then return around 5 p.m. to do homework, go to bed, and return to school the next day. 

“I had very little social life and not so much time to think about everything,” she said with a laugh. 

After medical school, she joined Sourasky, which was back in 2007, and has been there ever since. She and her family live in northern Tel Aviv and she rarely goes back to the North, although her parents still live there. 

She said Sourasky “feels like home. I love this place. The fact that I don’t feel like ‘an Arab’ in my daily life is thanks to this hospital, that never has given me the feeling of being different.”

About 10 months ago, she started working part time at Holy Family Hospital in Nazareth, which she said reconnected her to the Arab community. It was then that she realized how much pride they felt in her accomplishments.

“I got very positive feedback” from the Arab community “after the appointment,” Khatib said. 

Her eight-year-old son is studying at the Tabeetha School Jaffa, where he studies in English and learns Arabic and Hebrew, too. Her daughter attends Jewish preschool. 

“We live in Tel Aviv and I am not going to look for Arab schools somewhere else,” she explained. “Also, I want them to be part of our general community, not marginalized into a certain stream. I want them to live without having to define themselves.”

She said she will not push them toward medicine, but toward a career that makes them happy.

“Medicine does not feel like work because this is my passion,” Khatib said. “It is very important they love what they are doing – whatever it is.”

She also thanked her parents for pushing her and investing in her, and her husband who has continued to support her along the way. She started her residence at Sourasky as a single woman and met her spouse along the way.

“Marian is an intelligent and empathetic doctor who loves her profession and the patients very much,” said Prof Guy Lahat, the director of the General Surgery Division at the hospital. He called her a “true professional,” and said he is confident she will continue to develop herself and the breast center.  

“I am excited to enter one of the most coveted positions in public medicine,” Khatib concluded. “For me, this is a dream come true.”

By MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN JERUSALEM POST

Health Science and Technology