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Turning tables in Saudi Arabia

West campus graduate Dr. Amy Bowzaylo integrates chiropractic into a Saudi hospital
In 1897, chiropractic was introduced in the United States by D.D. Palmer. More than a century later, graduates of the profession and college that D.D. founded are introducing chiropractic to people in nations around the world. Recently we spoke to two Palmer chiropractors who are bringing chiropractic to Saudi Arabia and China.
Dr. Amy Bowzaylo

When Amy Bowzaylo, D.C., was a student at Palmer’s West campus, a trip home meant traveling all the way to Athabasca, Alberta, Canada. Today, the trip from San Jose to her current home isn’t just miles away, it’s a world away.

That’s because Dr. Bowzaylo now lives and works in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, as the director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Saad Specialist Hospital. It’s quite an achievement for Dr. Bowzaylo, given the prevailing professional barriers and cultural challenges she faced in getting this position, as well as some of the challenges she’s faced in her personal life over the past few years.

Branching out

After graduating from Palmer’s West campus in 1996, Dr. Bowzaylo worked with various West alumni at TEAM Clinic in Santa Clara, Calif., and ChiroMedical Group in San Francisco. Two years later, she met her husband, Colin Neil, a petroleum engineer, whom she married in early 2000. They subsequently moved to his native country, Australia.

In 2001, after Colin was offered a job with Saudi Aramco, the couple and their first daughter, Sierra, relocated to Saudi Arabia. While there, Dr. Bowzaylo practiced chiropractic. But in early 2004, she experienced two life-changing events. First, Dr. Bowzaylo’s mother passed away. Then, just two weeks later, Colin was killed during a mountain-climbing accident.

As she dealt with these two tragedies, Dr. Bowzaylo made plans to move her family to Canada. However, just days before her scheduled departure, she received a call from Saad Specialist Hospital. They told her they were interested in having her join their chiropractic staff. After interviewing with the hospital, she was presented with a job offer the next day. In a matter of months, Dr. Bowzaylo was promoted to her current position.

Dr. Bowzaylo drew much of her inspirational energy from the memory and influence of her late mother and husband. “My focus and drive come from the knowledge that I have a strong secure group of family, friends and the influence of my mother,” she said. “Nothing defeated my mother except cancer.”

Driven to providing chiropractic care

Bustling Al Khobar: The town in which Dr. Bowzaylo practices, Al Khobar, is home to Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company and houses multinational companies like British Aerospace.
Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia

Like all women in her country, Dr. Bowzaylo is not allowed to drive. However, she doesn’t take a back seat in her profession. Every day, she provides care for both male and female patients. As for transportation, the hospital supplies her with a driver who picks her up and takes her home each day to an employeeprovided villa.

In addition, as a non-Muslim, she is not required to wear the “hejab” or head cover but she does follow the local custom of wearing a black floor-length cloak called an “abaya” in public. She also has learned to speak some Arabic, even though English is the official language at the hospital. And while her colleagues may laugh at times at Dr. Bowzaylo’s pronunciation, she says they’re gracious and good-natured when correcting her mistakes.

“This position has provided an amazing opportunity,” said Dr. Bowzaylo, who is also president of the newly formed Chiropractic Association of Saudi Arabia. “You meet people from many different countries and get a very intimate glimpse into how other cultures live. I have made some amazing friends in my five years here. Of course, I love the fact that you get 43 days of holidays a year!”

As for the perception that the region in which she lives is politically volatile, Dr. Bowzaylo commented, “We’re not running from bunker to bunker. In fact, I feel safer here than in the United States.”

Improving international relations

For Dr. Bowzaylo, her primary worries have more to do with homesickness for Canada and how her coworkers interact. “Actually, the greatest challenges are being away from family and learning to resolve conflicts when you have many different nationalities working together,” she said. “It is an opportunity for betterment, though, and so it’s a good challenge.”

Chiropractic has been a featured service at Saad Specialist Hospital since it began accepting inpatients in 2001. In addition to Dr. Bowzaylo, the hospital staff includes seven other chiropractors. Dr. Bowzaylo finds that the hospital has a progressive view of health care, and that chiropractic’s wellness approach to health care is helping to reduce some of the most common conditions that Dr. Bowzaylo’s staff cares for, including degenerative disc disease and comorbidity, which is the coexistence of two or more disease processes.

According to Dr. Bowzaylo, the working relationship between the chiropractors, physical therapists, orthopedists, neurologists, and staff from all other departments in the 355-bed hospital is excellent.

She says that her most satisfying experience at Saad so far was when she saw a patient come into the hospital in a wheelchair and subsequently regain the ability to walk.

When she was younger, Dr. Bowzaylo envisioned herself becoming an orthopedic surgeon. However, she says she’s pleased with the healthcare career path that she ultimately pursued. “I am really glad that I chose chiropractic, as I get a lot of personal satisfaction in healing people and more so in empowering them to help themselves,” she said.

From the Persian Gulf to the Bay Area

This fall, she visited Palmer’s West campus to celebrate her 10-year reunion and speak at Homecoming on her personal experiences as a chiropractor in Saudi Arabia. She made her presentation, “International Chiropractic: Case Management in the Middle East,” on Friday, Oct. 6.

“I am excited to share my experiences in the Middle East with others, and to see all my old classmates,” said Dr. Bowzaylo, who is currently developing a training program to teach her hospital’s team of physical therapists more about the spine and the philosophy of biomechanics-based chiropractic.

Today, Dr. Bowzaylo still uses the book “Differential Diagnosis for the Chiropractor: Protocols and Algorithms” in her practice, which was written by one of her West campus instructors, Dr. Thomas Souza.

“Ten years?” remarked Dr. Bowzaylo. “That seems like a lifetime ago!”

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