The Business Year

Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh

QATAR - Health & Education

To Your Health

Dean, Weill Cornell Medical College


Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh has led Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) as Dean since January 2010. He joined WCMC-Q as Vice-Dean for Research and Professor of Psychiatry in early 2007 from Stanford University School of Medicine, California, where he was an Associate Dean and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He is also currently the Co-Chair of the Joint Steering Committee of the Qatar Academic Health System Initiative and a member of the Neurosciences Institute—Interim Executive Committee. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Sidra Medical and Research Center and also serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Overseers of WCMC-NY.

"Within the next five years, Qatar will be an example for the region in terms of providing first-rate healthcare."

What Strategy led to the development of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q)?

WCMC-Q is a medical school that is a part of Cornell University. Cornell University has a medical school in New York City, and we are a branch campus. The strategy of Cornell University is to get into the global education business, and it has been quite active in that. The strategy was to come here and establish a medical school for the first time outside the US, and offer US degrees. That was very exciting for Cornell University and the leadership of Weill Cornell in New York. Their vision fitted quite nicely with the Qatar Foundation’s vision, which wanted to attract top-rated US branch campuses here. They signed a contract in 2001 and our classes started in 2002. We have a very unique six-year program, including two years pre-medical, which we use to prepare students for admission to the medical school by using the Cornell granted courses, and then we prepare them for the medical school admissions so they can take the MCAT and other medical school admission tests. This process has worked out very well.

What synergies exist between the campus here and the one in New York?

We have the same overall governance structure in the sense that the dean here reports to the dean in New York City, who then reports to the president at Cornell University. We have a similar committee of executive and associated deans. Our entire faculty has appointments in the departments in New York City, so it is the same criteria. Students are admitted using the same criteria as the head of the admissions committee in New York. In the first two years, the dean used to take the names of the proposed students and then they would go and discuss them. The curriculum is the same. Many of the faculty from there come here for several days to teach certain parts where we don’t have the expertise on the ground. It is pretty much an extension of the campus we have in New York. The only difference is that it is in Doha, it could be in Chicago, California, or wherever, and be the same thing.

“Within the next five years, Qatar will be an example for the region in terms of providing first-rate healthcare.”

How would you assess the success of the first decade here?

Basically, one way to look at this is the objectives for the first phase, which ended in 2008. During the first phase of WCMC-Q’s development, three of our major achievements included establishing the first American medical school outside the US, maintaining the same high admission and educational standards of WCMC in New York, and achieving a historic first by awarding Cornell Doctor of Medicine degrees to successful candidates in Qatar. We graduated the first class in 2008. Then, in 2010, the college entered its second phase with the institution of a new five-year strategic plan that we are going through now and will lead to the establishment of world-class translation and clinical research here, which is what I came here for from Stanford University. The strategic plan will create centers of excellence in certain areas: research, education, clinical excellence, and focus research on diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Ultimately, we want to have this as the premium medical institution in the entire region. We are already almost there. In 2013, we had about 94% of our graduates matching in their US residency programs, which is very comparable to the US grades for the medical school, compared to a matching rate of 42% for other schools outside the US. There is not another medical institution in the entire region that I know of that has close to our matching rate.

What role does research play in your medical school?

No medical school can be considered first rate or world class without research. It is important for students to get involved. Just after our students get admitted to medical school during the summer, selected students are sent to New York City for two months and almost every student who is here (even if they don’t go to New York) participates and gets involved in research projects right from the beginning in our labs with several mentors. Qatar Foundation funds many research programs through the QNRF. It has about 10 programs. One of them is called “Undergraduate Research Experience Program.” We are a large recipient of those students. Almost everybody gets training in research methodology. What research does is teaches you how to think critically, like a scientist. The natural human tendency is to think in approximations. To be precise and exact is something that has to be learned. We systematically cultivate critical thinking skills in our students. They need to ask questions, make hypotheses, test them, and discard them if they don’t fit or build on them if they do. That is critical thinking, rather than just guessing. The world is changing. You have knowledge at your fingertips via the internet, but you must be trained to think for yourself and research is a big part of it. That is not only for the student training, but it is equally important for the faculty members as well. The best faculty members always get involved in research to keep current. The best teachers that I know are those who also do research because you think about the problem very differently. If I am teaching medical students, it is much easier for me to teach through real-world examples that I have dealt with recently as opposed to two or three years in the past. It is not just telling them what happened, what to do, and what medication to prescribe; you have to be emotionally with it.

With who do you affiliate yourself on the medical side?

Hamad Medical Corporation is our clinical affiliate; we have had a liaison since 2004. That was the year our students first started getting clinical training. It is our partner, and we work very closely with it. That is where our students go to get their clinical training and do their rotations. That happens during the third year of their medical school. They do their rotations there and get their clinical training. Hamad is the largest healthcare provider in the country. It provides around 80% of healthcare in the country, so you have a whole lot of cases that cater to many needs if you look at it from an educator’s point of view. We also work very closely with the Supreme Council of Heath. We actually recently partnered with the Supreme Council of Heath and His Excellency to start a major campaign called “Your Health First,” which really teaches the kids to eat healthily and families to cook healthy food. We work very closely with them on these programs and the implementation of a health strategy for the nation.

How does Weill Cornell contribute to the national health strategy?

We help in multiple ways. Of course, we are preparing physicians who will provide the next generation of leadership here in the country and the next generation of healthcare providers and leadership in this arena. We also give input in terms of how to implement strategy. For example, a major component of the implementation is to have very good primary care centers. We help them there. We help them in terms of assisting the primary care facilities upgrade the quality of the services they are providing by instituting some of the outcomes research programs, whereby you measure quality. If you had patients coming in there, the overall outcome is this or that. You really have to demonstrate that you are providing excellent care for people

What is your outlook for the education and healthcare sectors in Qatar?

I am very excited. I think Qatar has a very clear vision as to what it is doing. The Qatar National Vision 2030 lays out very clearly the Supreme Council of Health’s health strategy. We are working as the Council’s partner in the healthcare sector. What I see is that within the next five years Qatar will be an example for the region in terms of providing first-rate healthcare. Included in that would be research and outcome research, such as looking at patient outcomes. All of that will be here in Qatar. It will become a shining example; there is no doubt in my mind.

What are your medium-term plans in Qatar?

Our medium-term plans is that our second affiliate, Sidra Medical Research Center, is coming on board. We are working very closely with it at the moment. Our goal is to have US accreditation, known as ECGME-I. That is an accrediting body for what we call a residency program or post-graduate training programs. We just received accreditation for Hamad Medical Corporation with our colleagues, and now we are going to get accreditation for Sidra. That means our graduates, once they become doctors, don’t necessarily have to go to the US; they can get the same standard of post-graduate residency training here. It is similar to their undergraduate training; they are getting US-style and standard undergraduate training here and that will be extended into the residency training when they become doctors. We are also working with the American Board of Medical Specialties to have the exams held here, which would be fantastic. You could train world-class physicians and have their specialty programs here. That is our plan. That is how you become the best in the region.

© The Business Year – May 2013



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