November 07, 2018 10:03 PM | by Salma Khattab
Dr. Heba Kotb: "This Is My Success Recipe for Any Girl with a Dream"
She’s always been not admiring the stereotype/inherited image of a girl as a cute, quiet creature that goes with the flow. She’s always been told to study pediatrics or clinical pathology to be an 'easy career' for her as a girl. She’s always thought if that will be the approach, then why educate a girl in the first place? She believed it’s nonsense for someone to think they have the right to categorize her. From day one, she was raised on the belief that what a boy can achieve, a girl can definitely achieve, too. As a kid, she used to play football, practice karate and hunt birds! The boys at school would think a hundred times before messing with her! Ladies and gentlemen, this is Dr. Heba Kotb.
She always wondered why the female is the one who’s always asked to give up on her career to be able to take care of her home and family, asking herself: “Isn’t the man also supposed to pay the same attention to his home and family?”. Continuing in our #SheCan series of articles,Today, we've had a heart to heart conversation with the successful Dr. Heba Kotb. Here is what she had to say for the first time about the journey of her success.
1. Why did you choose to study medicine in the first place? Did your parents have any influence on your choice to be a doctor?
Not at all. None of my family members forced me towards a certain choice. They weren’t even excited for my choice although they showed all the means of support for my decision. My father, may he rest in peace, Gamal Kotb, was a pioneer painter and the most famous in his domain in the modern era in the Arab world; my mother who was a housewife, also had passion for painting and drawing. My brother studied tourism and hotels, while my sister studied decor. That’s why they all wished I would follow the family’s artistic path. However, I was raised in a liberal family and went to Lycee school which also exposed me to the liberal French culture. I believe that after God, my family is the main reason behind who I am today, for they never opposed my dreams. They always supported me in every decision I made no matter what. Why this domain in particular? Ever since my very early childhood, I had the obsession of becoming a useful member of society and a person that leaves an impact in the world. I was so determined to achieve this goal, and to surprise you more, my second choice that followed medicine would be mechanical engineering!
2. You had a full scholarship to study medicine in France and the permission to work there for 10 years, but you still didn’t go. What’s the reason?
That’s true. I was nominated by all my teachers at school for this opportunity, but I preferred to prove myself and reach my dream in my country. I was so excited to start the journey from Egypt. Although I traveled abroad a lot as a teenager through student exchanges, I still -and always will- prioritize this country over anywhere else.
3. Can you give us a ‘success recipe’?
I believe that the constant will and skill of problem solving is why I’m successful now. I never settle or give up. I’m in continuous search of solutions, and I actually LIKE to solve problems and look for what’s behind everything. I don’t take things as is. There is always something telling me there is more to know and find out. That was so clear ever since I used to solve every problem on my homework that it actually frustrated my math teacher at school!
4. I’ve asked you why medicine in general, but let me ask you: why sex therapy?
I’ll surprise you again. I was originally a surgeon in the general surgery department in Kasr Al Aini hospital, and already practiced it. It was living the dream I always wanted. Then, I had my first baby, Dina. I told myself it’s okay, I’ll manage to get back to work after my 3-month maternity vacation. Unexpectedly, I couldn’t handle both being a surgeon and taking enough care of my very difficult, all-night-crying baby. I had to choose only one side, and without thinking I chose Dina's. Although I did it with love, that decision caused me severe depression; I couldn’t believe that I had my dream in the palm of my hands but wasn’t able to grip on to it and had to let it go. But because my mother in law is like a second mother to me, she suggested that I apply for something called “academic specialties" in Cairo university. It didn’t involve patients, just research and teaching. I hopelessly told her a cold “okay, apply for me”. One day, she informed me that I got accepted in the department of Forensic Medicine. I was neutral, neither happy nor sad. I didn’t know that when a person makes the right choice even if it costs them their dreams, God will for sure reward them.
Then, it all started when I had to choose the topic of my master thesis. My instructor told me that no one in the department tackled child abuse before. Again, I hopelessly agreed and started searching. Although that was in 1995 when internet wasn’t the best source of information yet, I managed to come up with data that shocked me. I was jaw-dropped each time I found out anything about sexual child abuse; I didn’t know that such a thing even existed! Whenever I read more, I was like: “Oh my God! does this really happen to children? Why isn’t the light focused on this? Why don’t we know about it?” It was like I was living in another world. Since then, I decided that it’s my message to let people know about it, and to raise awareness by all means.
I finished my master degree but felt like it’s not enough, it was just a research. I wanted to come up with conclusions, that’s why I tackled the same topic in my PhD which had 42 case studies of rapists. I was astonished as I questioned them and knew that child abuse, unfortunately, takes place several times every day not once in a blue moon as I used to think! As a main part of my PhD, I had to include a chapter about normal sexuality to be able to compare it with the abnormal cases I tackled. Although I was a doctor, a wife and a mother of 3 children, I knew very few things of what I studied about normal sexuality. Again, there was a whole new world I was missing! That’s when I decided that maybe this is the career that’s waiting for me! Accordingly, I earned the European fellowship in sexual medicine right after my Diploma and PhD degrees.
5. Weren’t you afraid of choosing such a career and the criticism you might get due to some inherited constrains about sex and sexuality in the Arab world?
If you have your family’s support, and the voice inside you strongly tells you that there is nothing shameful, taboo or against God in what you’re doing, then what will make you afraid? These things actually give you an incomparable power that enables you to face every obstacle. As long as you firmly, strongly and entirely believe in what you’re doing, especially if it has a positive influence on everyone around you, there is nothing that can make you stop.
6. How do you respond to negative comments such as people claiming you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing or others that keep standing against your way?
I simply don’t! However, people who want to discuss any opposing opinions with me in a civilized way are always welcome. Other than that, I always leave behind what might be annoying. I don’t listen; I don’t have time! If my success irritates anyone, it’s their problem, not mine. It’s as if someone is making chaos while you need to focus on something important, so you let them finish just to be able to get back to what you’re busy doing! If God’s messengers were insulted and fought against, how will I not want some people criticizing me?
7. Tell us more about your relationship with your girls; do you talk to them about sexual information?
Of course I do. I maintain a very special relationship with my daughters, we talk about everything, we have a friendship-like relation, & that’s what’s making them always honest with me. Their ages are between late teenage and early twenties, and we absolutely tackle everything. I advise moms to be wisely friends with their daughters and sons. They are very proud and witness all my success phases, they watch me at home studying, working in my clinic, and they like seeing me come up with something unique each time. I share my experiences with them as well as my day-to-day progress. They find it exciting to watch their mom be the reason of someone getting cured!
8. Can we ask you about your relationship with your husband? And what he did for you throughout your career?
I cannot neglect that my husband is my number one reason in my little family behind my success. Till today, he still looks at me and tells me how proud he is of me, and how he is willing to support me more and more in my path. He would even offer so many times to stay with the kids and miss his exam for me to enter mine!
9. Your partner was a great man pushing you forward. What qualities do you advise young ladies to target in a man in order to be a supportive future husband?
You know, there is no catalog. Each person has their priorities in the person they want to live with. You create your rules yourself. I can only tell you how you could know what your standards are. There is a very exciting technique that I always recommend.
- Grab a paper and divide it into four squares.
- Make the upper right slot for the things you think SHOULD exist in your partner; in other words, things you wouldn’t give up.
- In the opposite slot (bottom left), write down the traits that there is NO WAY you accept if found in the person you’re going to marry.
- In the upper left square, write the things that you’re not essentially requesting from your partner, but if found, it will be a plus.
- Then, in the final square, which is the bottom right, add the things that aren’t preferable characteristics for you but if found, you may accept them.
Take this paper everywhere. Keep this paper with you wherever you go. You’ll find yourself adding new points each day at random times!
Nevertheless, if I have to mention particular qualities, I would say that a man’s respect is measured by how much he respects his wife. There is no successful woman who has a depressing husband. Just like there is a woman behind each successful man, the opposite is a truth I’ve witnessed! Also, appreciation is all what a woman asks for, so always choose someone who appreciates even the littlest of things.
10. So you’re saying the secret to a happy marriage is...
It’s knowing when you should share your opinion and when you should just support unconditionally. A loving husband/wife would want to leave you a personal space of thinking, knowing your red lines and respecting them. It’s a mutual belief in each other, accepting flaws and embracing strength points. I always hear my husband telling me: “It’s not my job to tell you what to choose, but to support whatever you choose.”
11. What is an advice to tell young ladies who have dreams that they want to chase?
“Listen to who tells you do so and so, not who tells you don’t do so and so.” Continue in your own path. Drop obstacles. Focus your energy on what makes you move forward in your career. Study and play; travel and believe that everything happens for a reason. Do whatever makes you ‘you’. Keep yourself busy with what you were born to do.
12. What do advise new mothers?
If she’s a mother of a boy, then I’ll tell her work on making your future daughter in law pray blessings for you! Raise your son that there is no gender better than the other. Teach him to depend on himself and show him that women are just as equal through your own actions. For any mom who has a daughter, I tell her to maintain a friendship with your girl, this is what will keep her always safe.
13. You think the awareness concerning sexual culture in getting higher in the past decade in the Arab world?
Definitely. 10 or 20 years ago, most women had no idea that they, too, should enjoy the process of sexual intercourse. A lot of women used to think that they are just tools for making their men happy. The idea that a woman is having the sexual relation with her husband just to please him is almost vanishing. Women are now aware of their right to be pleased by this sacred relation. I think we are in a critical transitional era. Women started knowing their rights and duties more, and awareness among both genders is greatly increasing every day now.
Main image credits: www.hebakotb.net
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