Palestine, May 2022

Mr. Bob Niven with members of An-Najah University

Each visit took around 2.5 hours and comprised a discussion with the Dean and a senior colleague followed by a tour of various facilities (including demonstrations of the equipment at the anatomage units). 

Both Faculties greatly appreciated the support they receive from FQMS and are keen for this to continue. Each shared some priorities for types of support but there were also differences. The senior personnel and more junior staff that I met were invariably helpful, open and friendly.

Visit to Al-Quds University (Saturday 14 May)

My initial discussion was with Dr Hani Abdeen, and we were joined a little later by Safa Dhaher (Director of the University’s Financial Aid Department).

Dr Abdeen said Palestine as a whole was facing major financial stringency as was Higher Education specifically. The volume of tuition fees was crucial to the financial health of the University and Faculty, and this had led to a policy of major expansion in student numbers.  That in turn put pressure on facilities and capacity as well as in some cases on the ability of students to find suitable jobs or placements once their basic training was complete. Financial pressures had meant that he and colleagues had had to accept reductions in salary from time to time. Dr Abdeen wondered whether a total of seven (sic) medical schools in Palestine was excessive.  Al Quds was aiming for the standards set by, and accreditation with, WFME (World Federation for Medical Education).

Surgery and anatomy remained a key priority for the Faculty and Palestine.  Other priority specialties included pathology, emergency medicine and paediatrics. Palestine would also benefit from increased provision of family and mental health practitioners.

Safa Dhaher and Dr Abdeen explained that medical students came from a range of places in Palestine as well as East Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.  Student accommodation was pretty limited within the University and in the town of Abu Deis where it is located. This meant that most students travelled daily to the University from their homes with the inconvenience, time, costs and sometimes security-related barriers which that involved.  

Safa Dhaher said a good part of her time was taken up with discussing and seeking to resolve students’ financial difficulties.  Students could be reluctant to come forward with their problems until a late stage in their studies. She said things were well advanced on constructing a database containing each student’s demographics as well as information on their financial position and academic ability.  This could be made available to FQMS when deciding which students to support. 

Dr Abdeen’s priorities for FQMS support were:

  • to continue to provide financial support for the tuition fees of poorer, academically able students (as well as debt relief where needed)
  • one (or even two) more anatomage units
  • an expansion of the computer learning facilities.

He would also like to revive visiting professorships into the Faculty, not least to help the medical staff’s development. Overseas placements for students and staff could also be also useful.

Visit to An-Najah University (Thursday 19 May)

The initial discussion was with Dr Khalil Issa and Dr Hasan Fitian (Director of the Department of Medicine).  By chance during the subsequent walk-about I met the University’s Vice-President and two other senior executives. 

In discussion, Dr Issa described the growth of the University which currently has some 22,000 students and is the largest in Palestine. The medical faculty is on the New Campus and its current building opened ten years ago.  There are plans for a further Faculty building, which it is hoped will be ready in 2-3 years’ time. Plans to expand Nablus’s main hospital, on the other side of town, from 120 to 400 hundred beds, are currently stalled.

Dr Issa and Dr Fitian emphasized that the Faculty constantly aimed to meet WFME standards, and had high pass/success rates among its students – typically over 95%. The Faculty and University set great store by achieving international standards and broadening the horizons of its students (this was confirmed unprompted by the University President when I met him later).  Covid restrictions had affected the University’s income. Support for tuition fees was welcome (and the Madrinha Trust was mentioned more than once) but this did not appear to be as significant issue as at Al Quds. Most students lived in rented accommodation in Nablus, and this was encouraged in order to overcome the difficulties that could arise from travelling to and from the University. Strict attendance requirements applied. 

Dr Issa’s list of priority specialties was similar to Dr Abdeen’s.  He also mentioned optometry and audiology. In contrast, some specialties – for example cardiology – were possibly over-subscribed in terms of doctors qualifying. 

Visiting professorships could be useful, but were also expensive and sometimes difficult to organize satisfactorily. The Faculty preferred for such external support to be made online.  On the other hand, overseas experience for students was to be welcomed.  

The Faculty attached increasing importance to computer, distance and online learning, and needed to expand its capacity in this area while also wanting to adopt cutting edge techniques including simulation/virtual reality labs. The availability of IPads to students also needed to be increased. The Faculty had recently recruited an expert in such matters. On the walk-about, the anamotage technicians and Dr Issa emphasised how valuable the unit was and the high level of usage.

Living up to its full title of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, the Faculty also attached importance to its social responsibility.  It ran several such initiatives in the Nablus area.

Dr Issa’s priorities for FQMS support were:

  • a second anomatage unit
  • computer assisted learning
  • scholarships/bursaries for students to learn abroad
  • tuition fees

In due course, the additional new Faculty building will require equipment and fitting out more generally.

When I met the University President, his one specific and clear priority was a further anamotage unit.

Bob Niven

23 May 2022