Abu Dhabi's first medical school is out to ensure the country's next generation of doctors are not priced out of crucial training after welcoming its maiden class of students.
The College of Medicine and Health Sciences, operated by Khalifa University of Science and Technology, will offer full scholarships to people of all nationalities, with Emiratis also receiving a Dh28,000 stipend.
A white coat ceremony held on Tuesday heralded the start of a four-year journey for the new batch of students, who will receive vital on-the-job experience at government-run hospitals across the capital.
The course is aimed at post baccalaureate graduates, acting as a finishing school for talented medics who will be able to contribute to the nation's health for decades to come.
Thirteen of the first 30-strong class are Emiratis, offering a boost to long-held ambitions to increase numbers of locally-trained doctors and nurses.
Proud father Dr Ali Memon, from Pakistan, said he would have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to send his daughter to train in America.
“Such a programme would have cost me at least $300,000 (Dh1.1 million) in the US," said Dr Memon, a consultant general paediatrician in the Emirates.
"The programme is at the same standard as some of the best universities in the world and my daughter can be here with me and work side and side with me.
"We are very lucky and grateful for this generous contribution from the government and the university.”
Dr Memon's daughter, Mashal Memon, 23, secured a degree in literature and creative writing from New York University Abu Dhabi.
She and her friend, Ridda Manzoor, also 23, have joined the new college.
“Being part of the inaugural class mean that we are both leaders,” Ms Memon said.
“For someone who isn’t sure and wants to go into medicine later in life, then this is a great opportunity. A lot of us have different backgrounds so there are ways that each of us with our own specific background can contribute to medicine.”
Ms Manzoor said: “The experience of being part of leading class is such a great experience and nothing compared to anything I would get in the US."
Biology graduate Sameeha Sajid, 22, received her degree in America but feels greater opportunities await her in the UAE.
“I have always wanted to pursue medical education and what spoke to me the most is that this is very student centered education. I received a scholarship, which was a huge bonus,” Ms Sajid said.
The initial class of 30 is to expand to 50 next year with the aim to eventually teach 100 students at a time in coming years.
Dr John Rock, founding dean of the college, said students will be armed with the knowledge and expertise needed to make a difference in hospitals in both the UAE and the US.
“This is the vision of Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, chairman of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince’s Court, and chairman of the board of trustees of Khalifa University of Science and Technology and the education minister that we have a state-of-the-art American-style medical school that would prepare our students for residencies in both our hospitals in Abu Dhabi and North America.
“Unfortunately medical schools students accumulate a lot of debt and what the government wanted was to encourage bright students to join without worrying about debt.
“The plan is to continue with the scholarships.”
The majority of students have either a Bachelors degree in science or engineering.
“We don’t guarantee jobs but we feel like we will be able to prepare them for eligibility for residencies and North America. We feel they will be as competitive for residency programs as all the other schools,” said Dr Rock.
“I think it is very exciting. You have a state of the art medical school that will provide the doctors of the future to practice right here in the Emirates.”
Body Worlds opens in Abu Dhabi
The region's first Body Worlds exhibition - entitled Body Museum - was also launched during the Khalifa University event.
Dr Gunther von Hagens’ renowned touring exhibition of preserved human bodies has attracted more than 47 million visitors since its launch in 1995.
It will be open to the public in the capital for the next six months.
The exhibition chronicles the life-cycle of the humankind through the ageing process, offering a unique insight into the human body.
“By bringing the Body Worlds Exhibition to Abu Dhabi, we have demonstrated to the community the extent of learning the students will undergo at Khalifa University’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences,” said Dr Arif Al Hammadi, executive vice president of Khalifa University of Science and Technology.
“The exhibits demonstrate the complexity, resilience, and vulnerability of the human body in distress, stricken by disease or in optimal health. We believe the exhibition will help students in the UAE learn about the marvels of human body and gain insights into human anatomy, its various stages and how adopting a healthier lifestyle positively impacts the body.”