Sondos Albadri – a life in dentistry

Sondos Albadri opens up about the wars of her childhood and the obstacles she overcame to become a professor in paediatric dentistry.

As a young girl in Iraq I witnessed two wars before I had reached adulthood. My teenage years were spent not knowing if my family and I would make it from one day to the next. Living in the moment, it never occurred to me I would one day become a professor in the UK and the president of one of the foremost dental societies!

Despite the chaotic and unsettling environment of my childhood however, my parents – who were academic – instilled in me the importance of education. When I was born, in 1975, they were in Swansea undertaking doctorates. The Iraqi Government had a policy of sponsoring academics to study overseas. When we returned home, we were given a piece of land where we could build a house. At that time, we felt optimistic.

But then war came. Firstly we experienced the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. I remember my Mum taking me to school and on the first day we had to stop every few kilometres because of the bombing. It seemed bad at the time but most of the fighting was at the borders; worse was to come.

Optimism waning

I remember the start of the Gulf war clearly; we were in the UK at the time, visiting relatives from Canada who were staying in Manchester. We turned the TV on and saw Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait. Because I had a British passport, my father suggested I should stay in the UK but I wanted to be with my family and we returned to Baghdad.

The Gulf war was more devastating and we spent weeks without electricity and water. By this time, we had lost our house, my parents’ jobs were precarious and our optimism was waning.

When I was 17, my dad made the brave, albeit daunting, decision to flee the war and move my family to Jordan where I went on to study dentistry. It certainly wasn’t easy, having to build new bonds with people while worrying about those we had left behind. But I am very grateful to my dad for pushing the move and my mum who gave up her job at the university in Iraq knowing that there were no vacancies in her specialist area in Jordan.

It was in Jordan where I fell in love with paediatric dentistry, after starting clinical work on the children’s clinic. With no access to general anaesthesia, we relied on what I can now only put down to luck and magic to complete treatments. I really enjoyed the challenge. I was also lucky enough to meet my lifelong teammate and husband, Fadi Jarad, also training to be a dentist and with sights set on restorative dentistry.

New starts

My parents continued to do what they could to find work. My mother found a post in New Zealand and they moved there with my brother. But my father could not find work. He moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates

In 1998, on the day of our wedding celebration, I was with my father, driving him to the airport to return to Jordan. He wasn’t feeling well and asked me to drive him to the hospital. He died that day aged 56 from a heart attack.

Looking back I can see that losing him made me even more determined to pursue higher education and a successful academic career. A week later, Fadi and I arrived in Northern Ireland and we both started our PhDs at Queens University, Belfast. The Irish seemed very welcoming – however I can’t be too sure because at the time I had no idea what they were saying!

Sharing responsibilities

During this time, I fell pregnant with my daughter who I gave birth to mid PhD! I will never forget the sleepless nights I had leading up to revealing my pregnancy to my PhD supervisor, as I was only four months into my PhD. Luckily he was very supportive despite the different times.

However, I insisted that I work until the day I went into labour – luckily, the school of dentistry was across the road from the maternity hospital. I then started my clinical training, I moved to Sheffield and then Dublin, and finally we settled here in Liverpool in 2002.

The next big change happened after my son was born in 2003. I started my specialist training in Manchester where I worked closely with Professor Ian Mackie, he introduced flexible training before it was even a thing. This allowed me to balance work and home life despite the trip I had to make across the M62 daily.

I worked full time in Manchester, but I was lucky enough to have one study day that allowed me to work from home. So four days a week I would commute and Fadi would do the nursery and school runs before and after work. I wasn’t sure who had it easier but I’m now sure it was me!

Teamwork

Fadi and I have always worked as a team and figured out what step to take next and when, ensuring that both of our careers moved forward without either of us ever having to take a step back for the other, while always putting the children first.

I did my NHS training in Manchester but still managed to be involved in research, allowing me to move to an academic post CCST training position at Liverpool in 2008.

Looking back on my life thus far, I can see I had no choice but to acquire the resilience that would help tide me through and stay with me to this day. When I lost my father, I knew he wouldn’t want me to put my life on hold, I had to be brave and despite the heart-breaking loss, I pushed on.

I can see that losing him made me even more determined to pursue higher education and a successful academic career. I am very aware of the sacrifices my parents made for me.

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