Despite these troubled times in the Middle East, an American medical school is getting deeper into the export business in the area, and the physician executive at the head of the U.S. end of the partnership says it's precisely the kind of enterprise that will help the region.
Weill Cornell Medical College, which two years ago opened a medical school campus in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, will be the medical school affiliated with a new $900 million ultra-high tech teaching hospital to be built by the Qatari government in the capital city of Doha.
"We are committed to the globalization of medicine," said Antonio Gotto, M.D., dean of Weill Cornell. "We think that medicine does not know national bounds. We feel it is the best product that America can export."
Faculty at the new hospital will be Weill Cornell faculty recruited for those positions, Gotto said.
Gotto said troubles in the Middle East so far have neither touched Qatar nor posed recruiting problems for the medical school.
Most of the students currently enrolled are local citizens, but some come from elsewhere in the region and from Europe, he said.
"Obviously, we were aware of the regional difficulties and we were aware of these when we started planning the medical school before 9/11," he said, "but there have been no problems in Qatar, no disturbances of that nature. Everything has been calm and tranquil."
Gotto noted that New York, where the medical college is affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, is also not guaranteed safe from terrorist threat.
"Our project in Qatar is the one deal that does not involve oil and guns, so we think we have the potential to make a positive contribution and help change the medical system and improve medical care in a critical part of the world."
The new hospital is opening its doors with an enviable balance sheet supported by an initial cash endowment of $8 billion from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development.
"It's not a bad start," Gotto quipped.
The Qatar Foundation was created by the Emir of Qatar in 1995 to invest the nation's oil wealth in education, technology, healthcare and research, according to a foundation representative.
The exact governance structure of the new hospital has not been determined, Gotto said. "We've started our discussion with the Qatar Foundation about this."
Also partnering in the hospital development is Doha-based Hamad Medical Corp., a not-for-profit entity created by decree of the Emir of Qatar in 1979. Hamad operates four hospitals in Qatar, a nation of about 534,000 people, and is the equivalent of its national health service, Gotto said.
The proposed 350-bed hospital is the latest in a series of projects collectively known as the Education City complex of educational and research facilities on the outskirts of Doha that are supported by the Qatar Foundation.
Weill Cornell will direct clinical teaching and research at the hospital and will partner with the Qatar Foundation in running the hospital. Weill Cornell partnered recently with the Methodist Hospital in Houston. (See "Houston hospital looks far afield for new affiliate," June 24, 2004, MP Stat).
Construction of the hospital is expected to be completed in four years, in time for the first crop of graduates from Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar to fill a few residency slots at the new hospital, most likely in pediatrics and OB/GYN, according to Gotto.
Gotto said the school's Qatar campus has adopted a six-year, European-style medical school program with two years of pre-medical training and four years of medical school. The first group of 22 recently completed their pre-med course work, Gotto said.
The size of the first medical school class, which is open for enrollment now and may be augmented by more foreign students, has not been determined but probably will be capped at 50, the dean said.