Future Saudi doctors receive hands-on training

Health sciences students from Al-Jouf University participate in inaugural six-week training program to enhance skills, professional development.


(Edmonton) Some of Saudi Arabia’s most promising future doctors and health-care practitioners are enhancing their clinical, research and language skills while gaining valuable international experience thanks to a new pilot program at the University of Alberta.

Thirty-four undergraduate students from medicine, pharmacy, nursing and science at Al-Jouf University in Al-Jawf, Saudi Arabia, have spent the past six weeks receiving hands-on clinical training to manage conditions such as chronic pain, stroke rehabilitation and spinal cord injury, while learning about emerging public health risks and best practices in research and data analysis.

The training is part of the Health Sciences Visiting International Program, a pilot offered by University of Alberta International in partnership with the School of Public Health and Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. One of the program’s main goals is to help meet the growing demand for health-care training in Saudi Arabia amid a growing and aging population.

“It’s a six-week intensive program that will give students an edge back home, both in terms of their professional careers and expanding their options and potential as graduate students, allowing them to move to higher level of studies,” said Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international).

Naif Alwakid, dean of medicine at Al-Jouf, said the U of A is well known among Canadian universities and internationally, and after a visit last year came away very impressed with the quality of the institution. Participating in the health sciences visiting program is an opportunity to strengthen collaborations between the two centres and expand knowledge and training opportunities for students.

“Some of them, I hope, will come in the future to do post-graduate training here,” he said.

Fourth-year medical student Abdullah Al Falah said he and many of his fellow students embraced the opportunity to advance their English language skills, experience that will help improve confidence when speaking in future clinical or research settings back home or abroad.

“Having experience abroad, being able to experience medicine outside Saudi Arabia, is very valuable. Certainly, it’s different from Saudi Arabia to Canada—how they teach, how they interact with the patients, the policies at the hospitals,” he said. “I can see, observe, ask questions and learn from the environment. I can also learn about the expectations of international students.”

The six-week program was split into two sections, starting with modules in public health aimed at improving students’ skills working with data and measuring health and disease in populations, identifying causes of public health risks, public health surveillance, prevention and screening.

Kue Young, dean of the School of Public Health, called the program a good opportunity to extend the global reach of the school.

“We also want to plant a seed among some of these future health professionals so they understand some of the issues of what public health is,” Young said. “Maybe some of them will come here to do a master’s or PhD, or perhaps will emphasize prevention more in their medical practice."

The modules in rehabilitation medicine focus on issues such as spinal cord injury, chronic pain management and stroke rehabilitation with a blend of lectures and hands-on learning in labs and clinical observation at several sites, including the Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic and Health Sciences Education and Research Commons at the U of A and Edmonton’s Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

Bob Haennel, dean of rehabilitation medicine, said the blended learning opportunities and clinical observation set the program apart.

“We are providing a solid foundation for these students from the classroom to the front line of care,” said Haennel. “To my knowledge, we are the only institution in Canada that provides this kind of clinical observership. It just complements and enhances what they’re learning in the classroom, giving them a complete picture of how rehabilitation services are delivered in Canada.”

Al Falah said the public health modules were of particular interest because there is no public health science department back home. With a number of stroke patients in his family, he also took a personal interest in learning about rehabilitation medicine with those learning modules beginning this week.

“If I can know some techniques, it will help me help my family, and I will be able to benefit my community that I live in.”