S. GURUMADHVA RAO

Northern Emirates | EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to S. Gurumadhva Rao, President of RAK Medical Health & Science University, about the impact of the pandemic in RAK.

How has the pandemic affected RAK Medical Health & Science University?

We have taken all the precautionary measures, starting with temperature checks and COVID-19 tests, not to mention sanitization measures and social distancing. We are managing despite several challenges. We have had to depend on online lectures, though unfortunately there are many areas in our educational program related to health sciences where we cannot do full justice to the material online. There is no alternative for hands on experience through clinical training in the hospital. Some days, we have students attend in person, and other days they complete their work or attend lectures online. In 2021, especially for the practical classes, the Ministry of Education has made it mandatory that all the final assessments have to be done on campus. Regardless of the difficulties, all our assessments shall be done on campus in future, in addition the clinical rotations and practical classes/demonstrations.

Do you have a timetable for how students will do these rotations?

Everything has been planned out in advance. We are doing our best to create and follow the plans. The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health have separate guidelines. We depend on the Ministry of Health for guidelines regarding hospital training, though for everything else we depend on the Ministry of Education. In Ras Al Khaimah, one of our hospitals was completely converted into a COVID-19 hospital. Not only was there no admission of other non COVID patients, but students also could not go there for clinical training. We are making up for the loss of hands-on experience in hospitals with more instructional videos and lessons in the skills lab, which are the other methods of teaching in addition to clinical rotations.

Were there any initiatives in which your university contributed to fighting on the frontlines of the pandemic?

Many of our interns and students in their final year of Medical, Nursing, Dental and Pharmacy were frontline warriors and took up the volunteering work in different hospitals in different ways. Currently, the Ministry of Health insists on the availability of Medical & Nursing students as volunteers in different capacities. We are proud of our students who were very happy to volunteer during this crisis.

How has the university innovated teaching with digital tools?

COVID-19 is the sole reason we developed online teaching facilities and examination systems. Nowadays, many of our business meetings and internal meetings are also online. We got involved in various ways of interactive online teaching and using software for online assessments. We had to adopt new software and new technologies to cope up with the new situation. Through our webinars, we are now able to connect the entire globe and involve specialists around the globe. To date, we have conducted more than 25 international webinars and conferences with different experts from various locations. Outreach has also become bigger with lower expenditures which is one of positives from COVID crisis.

What are your expectations for the future of education?

As far as online teaching is concerned, 60-70% of teaching now can be done online if need be. However, we need to remember that students come to campus not just for lectures but also to meet colleagues, speak with faculty, and learn from each other. It is not just about developing the intelligence quotient (IQ), but also their emotional quotient (EQ), which is equally, if not more, important these days. Emotional quotient is at times more indicative of success in leadership, managing crisis, or problem solving. Campus life helps students to develop these attributes, that is why campus life is so important. We need to remember this fact before we try to convert ourselves completely to online learning. Practical and clinical lessons absolutely need to be done in the campus as a hands on experience. No doubt that they can be reinforced with online models, but onsite experience with patients is a must for all health science specialties, whether they are medical, dental, pharmaceutical, or nursing.

What is your perspective on the prospect of Emiratization?

In our medical, dental, and pharmaceutical programs, about 8-10% are Emiratis. However, seven years ago, not even one Emirati national was joining the nursing program. Even though, everyone wanted excellent nurses, they were not keen to become one. Because of our initiative and support from His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi (Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah; UAE) the Ministry of Health was kind enough to sponsor Emirati nationals with full scholarships to complete the nursing program. To date, more than 60% are Emirati nationals and are studying in the Nursing program. I am extremely proud to say we played a significant role in the Emiratization of the nursing program. In addition, the medical, dental, and pharmaceutical programs are growing. Free education is available for Emiratis at other Universities also, but nursing programs are being given priority now. Previously, the minimum eligibility for nursing program was based on the performance in the science group. However, with the approval from the Ministry of Education, we modified entry criteria to enable arts group students to join nursing as well. Currently, around 40 students joined the nursing program after completing coursework in the arts and then going through our bridge program to qualify them for our nursing program. Our tuition fees for nursing are only AED 35,000 per year, which is the lowest in UAE.

What are your goals and expectations for 2021?

I hope we make it through this year with all of our students. Other than that, as a university, academically we are extremely strong. We need more funding to increase our research contribution. Within our budget, we are now working to contribute funds for research, though it is still not adequate. We have to publish more papers in indexed journals for the simple reason of rising in University rankings and gaining international recognition. To be included in the rankings, there has to be a significant contribution through research in addition to the academic rigor and infrastructure. The faculty are capable of conducting the research, but we are short of funding for that. The second goal for the coming years is in relation to building our own hospital. At present, we depend on the Ministry of Health hospitals in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. We need to have our own hospital, and our management is going on in this direction for which we are grateful. They are taking the correct steps and have already acquired land for this purpose. We will start with 100 beds but it will eventually grow to 300 beds, and ultimately in the long term, the plan is to make it a 500-bed teaching hospital. This will be a major advancement for our clinical rotations and will hopefully also facilitate research. From inception, and I have been fortunate enough to start this university from scratch in 2005 with the support of our His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi and the government of Ras al Khaimah including the Investment Development Office which have been invaluable. I also want to express our appreciation to our board members, who have been extremely encouraging and supportive in the past 15 years. Thanks to their initiative, our own hospital will become a reality. My dream is to see a rank worthy RAKMHSU in the near future.