Launching of an American Medical College in the Middle East: Educational Challenges in a Multicultural Environment

David P. Hajjar, Antonio M. Gotto


The graduation of the first class of medical students in May 2008 from the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q), Cornell University’s branch campus in the Middle East, was the first time that an M.D. degree from an American university was awarded abroad. It marked a milestone in American higher education.

The establishment of WCMC-Q is part of a larger strategy to promote education and develop science policies in Qatar and other areas of the Gulf Arab States. Development of WCMC-Q has proceeded according to our institution’s tripartite mission of fostering excellence in medical education, research, and clinical care. In the past 10 years, a thriving pre-medical and medical program has been successfully developed, where the next steps will be to further develop biomedical research capacity. Also, an initiative launched in 2011 to transform its clinical affiliate, the Hamad Medical Center (HMC), along with the opening of a new medical center called Sidra in 2013 which will be focused on women’s and children health, will allow WCMC-Q to integrate its clinical training and research programs with its educational curriculum aimed at training the next generation of physicians.

Critical factors in the success of this project include clearly defined educational  objectives, a focus on academic quality and guaranteed academic freedom. Challenges include: 1) faculty recruitment and retention, 2) the integration of local high school students into a competitive science program, 3) acceptable training policies defined for academic excellence and,  4) the distance separating WCMC-Q from New York City where Well Cornell Medical College-NY (WCMC)  resides. As WCMC-Q continues to grow and expand its long-term mission, it may serve as a model for American universities seeking to establish branch campuses abroad for educational and medical training purposes. The focus of this article describes the development of the educational  program in Qatar since its inception, and it reviews critical success factors, the policies aimed at achieving our tripartite mission, and the challenges facing the promotion of medical education in the Gulf region.

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International Journal of Higher Education
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