ABU DHABI // Fatima Al Dhaheri is at her happiest when she is around children, and has made it her life’s mission to improve health care for the next generation of Emiratis.
The doctor has become only the second UAE national to join an internship at Children’s National, a hospital in Washington DC that houses the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation.
She hopes that being mentored by some of the leaders in the field will help her to advance paediatric medicine in the UAE.
“There is never a dull moment with children and I feel the best lessons in medicine and life I learnt from my little patients,” said Dr Al Dhaheri, 25, who joined the three-year paediatric programme in June.
She was one of only five international medical graduates selected for 40 residency positions at the hospital.
“I still cannot believe I am here,” Dr Al Dhaheri said. “I feel beyond fortunate to be in such a stellar programme. It was overwhelmingly humbling to be one of the chosen few.”
The Sheikh Zayed Institute was established in 2009 through a Dh551 million gift from the Abu Dhabi Government, and a handful of bright, young doctors are chosen each year for its selective residency programme.
“I am only two months into my training but it has already been the most challenging experience I have ever had to go through,” said Dr Al Dhaheri, who last year graduated from the College Of Medicine and Health Sciences at UAE University, in Al Ain.
She was also a teaching assistant at the university’s paediatric department.
“I have learnt so much medicine, but I feel I even learnt more about myself and what I am capable of.
“Before starting my training I had never imagined I would be able to pull through half of the things I have experienced. It has definitely made me a stronger person.”
After her three-year course, she plans to pursue more specialised training in her field before returning to share her expertise in the UAE as a faculty teacher.
Dr Al Dhaheri’s interests are in medical education and child advocacy, infectious diseases, global health and paediatric mental health.
“I know it will contribute tremendously to my learning experience as a paediatrician in training but I also know it will help me become a better teacher and a better advocate for the paediatric patients back in the UAE.
“I hope to contribute to the advancement of medical education in both UAEU’s medical curriculum and the local residency training programmes affiliated with the university.”
Despite her relatively short time at Children’s National Dr Al Dhaheri, from Al Ain, said there had already been many highlights.
“The most recent would have to be receiving two hugs from two different patients’ mums when I was discharging their children to go back home,” she said.
“It made the long working hours and the stress of starting residency worth every second.”
Over the past two decades, hundreds of Emirati youngsters have been treated at the Washington hospital, one of the world’s premier paediatric care facilities, as UAE families sought the best possible care for their children.
The relationship between the UAE and the hospital has been strengthened through the establishment of the institute.
Researchers at the Sheikh Zayed Institute are working with Emirati colleagues in the UAE on innovations aimed at the needs of the country.
Being part of that burgeoning relationship is “absolutely humbling and very surreal”, said Dr Al Dhaheri.
“I also feel a kind of responsibility to represent the UAE as best as I can,” she said.
Mary Ottolini, chief of paediatric hospitalist medicine and vice chair for paediatric medical education at Children’s National, said Dr Al Dhaheri was a natural choice for one of the coveted spots.
“Dr Al Dhaheri’s strong academic background made her an excellent candidate for our 2014 class of residents,” Ms Ottolini said.
“We are proud that Dr Al Dhaheri chose Children’s National as the best place to further her medical education.”