What is the relationship of the University of Calgary-Qatar to its parent institution?
BYRNE: We’re a branch campus of the University of Calgary in Canada. I think one of the reasons that the people in Qatar looked at the University of Calgary and at Canada is because of our excellent reputation in nursing. We have a fabulous reputation there. So our program here at the University of Calgary-Qatar is the same, with the same standards, as the one in Canada. When you think about it, for many of students coming here, English is not their first language. So what we do is we have a foundation year where they can upgrade in science, math, and especially in English because all of their instruction is in English. And they are amazing, absolutely amazing. Where Arabic is their first language, all of a sudden, after a year of that, they are writing essays in English. It’s a fabulous program. It makes this program on par with other programs internationally. So students can go and work elsewhere with a highly recognized degree.
How do local medical education institutions contribute to meeting the demand for healthcare practitioners?
BYRNE: I’m sure if you talk with people from Qatar they would say that they need more than we’re able to produce right now because there is a shortage in this country alone of 5,000 nurses. So I’ll stick to nurses at this point. With that shortage, we, and we are only 5 years old, we are trying to look at ways of educating Qataris and people who have lived in this country to become nurses. But you don’t educate 5,000 nurses in a couple of years. So we are trying to meet the demand. We’re working with the State, with Hamad Medical Corporation, and with SIDRA, to look at what their needs are and trying to ramp up and take more students for them.
Where are the majority of your students finding employment after graduating?
BYRNE: The majority of students in our program right now are going to HMC, Hamad Medical Corporation. The others are also being sponsored by SIDRA so that when SIDRA opens they’ll have spots there to go to. HMC is the biggest organization taking them at this point.
In what ways do you cooperate with other higher educational institutions in the country – both local and foreign?
BYRNE: I mentioned previously the academic health science system. There is the University of Qatar because they have pharmacy. There is medicine at Weill-Cornell. The College of the North Atlantic has a program that does a lot of education for health professionals. All of us, in different ways, collaborate with each other. One of the unique things that we've done in this country is to start an inter-professional education group. There are representatives from all of those institutions that sit around the table and look at opportunities for students together because in the real world they work together; doctors, nurses, pharmacists, we all work together. But often in education institutions we teach in silos. So what we’re trying to do here is get the students, before they graduate, to think about their role vis-à-vis a nurse’s role or the pharmacist’s role. So we've got that organized in the country as well. It’s very exciting.
How does Qatar compare with other places in the region in terms of healthcare education?
BYRNE: I would say that Qatar is moving move quickly than other places in the region. They have a vision. They actually have a vision for an academic health system here which is bringing together clinical, education, and research, which is far advanced than other areas in the region. So the medical school here, the nursing university here, and Hamad Medical Corporation are working to bring about an academic health system. So it is more advanced I would say.
What challenges persist in the recruitment and retention of nursing students and medical professionals?
BYRNE: I think the large challenge in this country is the image of the nurse. Most people have a very traditional image of a nurse, something that a nurse did 50 years ago. So to see a nurse doing research, being an administrator, being an educator, being able to do a variety of different roles with a PhD, a Master’s, or a Baccalaureate degree, people aren't familiar with that yet. One of the big things we have to do is educate the public about what nurses do. That’s been a major thrust of this university. The other challenge is as it is in every country, getting enough qualified students to come to the programs and enter nursing. So I would say that those are the two biggest challenges.
I would say that Qatar is moving move quickly than other places in the region. They have a vision. They actually have a vision for an academic health system here which is bringing together clinical, education, and research, which is far advanced than other areas in the region.
How are you working to change the perception of nurses among the general population?
BYRNE: We go into high-schools. We do public forums. We do any kind of conference that’s educational where we can talk about what we do. But we also work with HMC in getting the word out. We've done billboards saying “I love what I do, I’m a nurse”. Some of the nurses from Hamad Medical Corporation have been in those ads. So we’re trying to show that it is a fabulous profession but it is very different than the traditional way people think of nurses.
What can be done to encourage more research in Qatar and the region?
BYRNE: There are several great things about this region. The first is the National Priorities Research Program, which offers funds to do research. It is incredibly supportive of researchers. We have two faculty members here that have grants totaling over $1.5m and we’re only 5 years old. The other thing that they do is offer what are called UREP Grants. They are undergraduate research projects where faculty pair with undergraduate students to do research together. To me, that’s a brilliant idea because you’re introducing young undergraduates to the research process. So they kind of catch the flame as it is and get engaged in research as undergraduates. So those are two positive spin-offs. I would say the thing that we need to work on in this country is raising the bar for nursing and getting other people to do nursing research and collaborating with us as a university in doing research. That is a challenge but we’ll get there.
What role does UCQ play in meeting the goals and objectives outlined in Qatar’s National Vision 2030?
BYRNE: As well as the 2030 Vision, there are specific healthcare initiatives. So there is the cancer strategy, which came out last year. There is also a more global health strategy. So in all of those areas, what we do here is we try to work with our partners to look at, let’s say the cancer strategy, and determine what is needed in this country around oncology or palliative care nursing. What we try to do is to tailor our programs to allow for that kind of learning to occur. So while we don’t cover every area all of the time, we take the priorities of this country and try to weave them into our curriculum so that people are graduating equipped to work in those areas.