One challenge emerging from the rapid expansion of hospitals and health care providers in Qatar is a shortage of skilled professionals. “While the shortage of nurses is a global problem, Qatar currently faces a significant hurdle,” Carolyn Byrne, the dean and CEO of the University of Calgary – Qatar (UCQ), told OBG. “It is in need of at least 5000 nurses.”

BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS: The government is trying to address these gaps through several initiatives, including attracting foreign expertise in the short term and developing local talent in the longer term. UCQ, for example, is central to the government’s strategy of building a cadre of trained nurses and local capacity. The university is working closely with the government and the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) to craft a coherent national education programme. The school actively reaches out to the local community to raise awareness and encourage more students to pursue careers as nurses in aims of bridging the shortage of nurses in Qatar and throughout the region.

Qatar University has also expanded its offerings at the graduate level to include master’s and doctoral degrees in pharmacy. Scientific research is the cornerstone of the organisation’s teaching and learning. Qatar University achieved significant success in the fourth cycle of the National Priorities Research Programme, with 64 out of the 145 winning proposals submitted.

BRIDGING THE GAP: Public hospitals, led by HMC, bridge the gap between education and practical training through several programmes to educate staff and students. The Hamad International Training Centre (HITC), for example, provides physicians and nurses with training opportunities to continue improving and developing skills in order to maintain a highly trained workforce. HMC also collaborates with medical schools in the region to provide residency and other education opportunities for medical students, as well as sponsoring its doctors to enrol in training programmes abroad.

Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Education City has invested in bringing centres of excellence in the medical field directly to Qatar. The Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q) and the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are helping shift the longer-term development trajectory of the health sector by training doctors and scientists locally. WCMC-Q and CMU recently collaborated to initiate joint-programmes in computational biology and biological sciences, expanding the options for medical research and education in the country.

Another QF project, the $7.9bn Sidra Medical and Research Centre, is scheduled for completion by December 2012 and will be a teaching hospital affiliated with WCMC-Q, as well as a medical research centre. The centre will target health care for women and children and provide paediatric surgical and support services. Sidra will eventually host a state-of-the-art clinical simulation centre that is expected to be one of the most advanced in the Middle East and will be used to assess and develop staff competencies, and support education programmes in the country.

Linking education with commercial enterprise, initiatives like the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) will help establish Qatar as a centre for medical enterprise. The facility is already having some success commercialising its applications. In 2011 the Rome City Council deployed in its health facilities a QSTP platform that enables remote monitoring of body functions.

GAINING GROUND: Investing in research and education points to Qatar’s commitment to develop a sustainable health and medical sector. “The current focus in the research field is about ensuring a common plan is identified and implemented,” Hatem El Shanti, managing director of Shafallah Medical Genetics Centre, a diagnostic, treatment and research centre, told OBG. “For Qatar to become a research hub it needs to develop a research culture, with sound coordination between all the entities involved, as well as full transparency.”

In the longer term, it is hoped that these efforts will not only transform the delivery of health services for Qataris, but will also contribute to the global discourse, positioning Qatar as a centre for medical excellence.