Practice makes perfect


The solo flight of Dr. Lamees Abounassif, dental business pioneer

Lamees Abounassif, a consultant in advanced restorative dentistry and pioneering Saudi health care entrepreneur, paused between patients to find the right word.

“Persistence, that’s what it takes,” said Dr. Lamees, who more than a decade ago became one of the first women to own a dental practice in the Eastern Province. “After all, it’s my dream. Why should I take ‘no’ for an answer?”

Dr Lamees Abounassif is a specialist in advanced restorative dentistry in Al Khobar.

When she received her dental degree from King Saud University, Dr. Lamees did not stop to take a victory lap. 

She pressed ahead to open her 200 square-meter practice, Artal Dental Clinic, in 2008 on Prince Faisal bin Fahd Road in Al Khobar, where she employed two other dentists.

Back then, some patients had doubts about being treated by a woman. 

As a young dentist, she worked in Jeddah, Al Kharj, Riyadh and Al Khobar. Along the way, she was drawn to the business side of her profession. As she learned business management, she got certified in advanced restorative dentistry and raised four children with her husband.

One day, her father, a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at King Saud University, suggested she open her own practice. It was a time when few Saudi dentists – men or women – were practicing dentistry in the private sector.

And no women were in charge of their own dental clinics.


Years before the reforms of HRH Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Dr. Lamees fought an uphill battle to open her private practice. Once, she was turned away from submitting a business application at a government office by security guards because she was a woman.

Others might have given up. She never did.

Her reputation grew.

In 2012, Artal Dental Clinic received an award from the Asharqia Chamber as one of the Eastern Province’s fastest-growing medical businesses. She was asked to join the Asharqia Young Businesswomen’s Council.

She looked for a bigger practice, and a friend suggested Wa’ed. Dr. Lamees took a one-week Wa’ed crash course in business. She was the only woman in a class of ten.

In March, Dr Lamees became the first woman to repay a start-up loan to Wa'ed.

When the course ended, Dr. Lamees presented her loan application to Wa'ed's screening committee. She said a Wa'ed loan would certainly help her business. But even if the committee didn’t give her one, she would reach her goal another way.

Wa’ed gave Dr. Lamees a loan to renovate a 780 square-meter space for her dental clinic along King Abdulaziz Road and 16th Street in Al Khobar, where she is today.

Over seven years, amid economic ups and downs, geopolitical strife and COVID-19, Dr. Lamees repaid her loan.

When she turned in the last payment in March, she became the first Saudi woman to repay a start-up loan to Wa’ed, which has loaned about $45 million to more than 100 entrepreneurs since 2011.

In April, as she oversaw renovations to her practice, where she employs three dentists and an orthodontist – two of them women -- she reflected on her journey.

These days, most patients trust Saudi female dentists in private practice, Dr. Lamees said. As dental practitioners and practice owners, women are no longer a rarity. Dr. Lamees has helped other women get their start, also in Al Khobar.

But she doesn't like to dwell on breaking barriers. She wasn’t the first Saudi woman dentist, she notes, and Saudi women have come a long way since she started. She simply mastered a set of managerial skills to own and run her own practice.

Repaying the business loan to Wa'ed means alot to her.

“Considering my lack of business knowledge and familiarity with governmental permits and other issues, it was like a circus when I started out,” she said.

Her perserverance carried her, she said, and today, reality has caught up.

“Saudi Arabia has changed greatly,” Dr. Lamees said. “Now you can do everything. The government is encouraging entrepreneurs and showing greater support to businesswomen, in dentistry and in every profession. Women’s empowerment these days is huge, and everyone knows it.”

That’s also the case at home, where her children, now mostly grown, cannot imagine the barriers their mother had to overcome. Their father makes sure they understand: “You should be proud of your mother,” he tells them. “She’s accomplished a lot.”