Dubai: An Emirati doctor who gives medical care and comfort to patients at the end of their life, has discovered tranquillity in some of the world’s tallest peaks as a means to conquer professional burnout and spread a message of hope.
Dr. Ayesha Al Memari, a 45-year-old Emirati critical-care doctor, discovers tranquillity in the mountains, away from the constant pings and rings of digital gadgets.
Dr. Ayesha has completed three of the seven summits – Mt. Kilimanjaro twice ( 5,895 metres, in 2017 and 2022), Mt. Elbrus (5,642 metres, the highest in Europe) in July 2023, and more recently, Aconcagua (6,961 metres), a mountain in Argentina near its border with Chile, the tallest peak in the Western hemisphere.
Serving as a consultant in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care at a hospital in Abu Dhabi, Ayesha shared with Gulf News that ascending mountains, far removed from the daily challenges, provides her with a personal challenge – a chance to unwind. This helps her return to work fully revitalised.
Dr. Ayesha emphasised the efficacy of exercise as a powerful antidote to burnout.
“Exercise is one of the most effective therapies against burnout. And I found my peace in the mountains,” said Dr. Ayesha.
“When you are on top of a mountain, there is no internet access to the rest of the world. It forces me to focus on my steps climbing and completely disconnect from the world. It is a great stress buster.”
Dr. Ayesha said being a critical care doctor, she is surrounded by patients who are nearing the end of their lives.
“At work, every day I see patients in the emergency department with critical conditions. It can be hard even for a doctor to face this constantly. It does take a lot of mental effort on our part and with time it leads to burnout. Having a passion, a refreshing activity, takes the stress away a great deal,” said Dr. Ayesha.
On January 17, Dr. Ayesha scaled Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America with a height of 6,961 metres.
The Aconcagua is in the Andes mountain range located in Mendoza Province, Argentina. It is said to be the highest mountain in the Americas and outside Asia.
She is on a mission to complete the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each of the seven world continents) and use her hikes to raise awareness on important causes.
“I am working towards formulating a team of seven Emirati women to scale the Seven Summits by the 55th UAE national day,” she told Gulf News.
The climb up Aconcagua, the terrain is rocky and hence challenging. “The weather conditions were very dry and windy which required me to have an intense hydration strategy. The high altitude needed acclimatisation. It took me 10 days to reach summit.
Carrying the UAE flag
Dr. Ayesha’s mother (Um Yassir) is worried when her daughter is disconnected from the world and is up hiking. “But she always makes sure I carry the UAE flag with me to raise it atop the summit”.
How it started
Dr. Ayesha’s first hike was in December 2015 when she made an attempt to summit Jabal Shams in Oman (3,200 metres), the highest peak in the GCC.
While she did not complete the summit then, she was not discouraged. She trained to get fitter and do better next time. And loved the idea of climbing mountains even more. Her journey began in earnest then, and trained harder to get fitter.
Fitter, with training
Her second hike was a huge success as she scaled Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, all of 5,895 metres high.
“I definitely felt fitter and inspired to do more hikes. I also used the hike as an opportunity to send a message to the world about professional burnout and how one must take steps to avoid it or even treat it.”
Practice and training before a hike
Dr. Ayesha has a mountain coach to guide her.
“He plans my training online and sets my mountain goals. Walking with heavy weights and running long distances are all part of the training to prep us for the climb.”
“It improved my fitness and overall well-being.”
Dr. Ayesha has also hired a cycling coach to build her stamina and leg strength.
“My running coach plans my training. The marathon cycle is about 16 weeks, where we increase distance of running then taper four weeks prior to race. My mountain coach also plans it in three phases, and it takes 18 weeks of training focusing on cardio, strength and balance training. We then taper down a few weeks prior to the hike,” explained Dr. Ayesha.
As for diet, Dr. Ayesha follows a high protein, low carbohydrates diet to help her lose weight.
“A few days before any mountain expedition, I switch to high carbohydrates diet just to fuel my muscles. For carbohydrates, I depend a lot on dates. Honey gives me the high nutritional values in addition to complex carbohydrates such as Oates, pasta and rice. Dates, however, work wonders during the mountain climb.”
Conquering mountains with a message
Dr. Ayesha set out on her Aconcagua mission to raise awareness on Sustainability Development Goal (SDG) 4 which is dedicated to quality education.
“I am grateful to the UAE for giving me access to quality education. This enabled me to become a doctor, a great human being. In return, I want to spread education to the rest of the world where people don’t have easy access to it. My Aconcagua (Argentina) climb was exactly for this reason – promote quality education to the world.”
Founding Father message
“Our Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan once said: ‘The credit of any advanced nation is its educated children, and the progress of people and nations is measured by the level of education and its spread’.”
Dr. Ayesha said: “He supported education for both men and women and that saw literacy rate in UAE go up from 58 per cent in 1975 to 98 percent in 2021.”
Inspiring her family
This summer, Dr. Ayesha and her family are planning to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro – the highest African mountain. It will be my third hike there and I am doing it just for my family and friends.”
Dr. Ayesha has completed three of the seven summits – Mt. Kilimanjaro twice (2017 and 2022) then Mt. Elbrus (the highest in Europe) in July 2023 and now more recently Aconcagua, the highest summit in South America.