Saudi health administration students attend Washington University program

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran in the Business section on Tuesday, March 7, 2006.)

By Kavita Kumar
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Ibrahim Al Hoqail (right), dean of the medical college at King Fahad Medical City, asks a question of instructor Stuart Boxerman (left), in statistics class at the Washington University School of Medicine.
Ibrahim Al Hoqail (right), dean of the medical college at King Fahad Medical City, asks a question of instructor Stuart Boxerman (left), in statistics class at the Washington University School of Medicine.

A group of 11 Saudi Arabian health care executives and physicians sat around a classroom with laptops at Washington University’s School of Medicine last week, working out complicated formulas on Excel spreadsheets for a statistics class.

They returned home last weekend, but will continue studying toward a two-year master’s degree in executive health administration at Washington U. through Web-based conferences. This program has been uniquely tailored to them and seven other participants who are all from the government-owned King Fahad Medical City, a four-hospital complex based in Riyadh that is one of the largest in the country.

Two Washington U. professors will travel to Saudi Arabia this summer to teach some classes. The program will be topped off by five weeks back on campus.

University officials say this first-of-a-kind program for the school, which was created after the Saudi Ministry of Health approached them, is teaching these health experts more than just the principles of management, finance and organization.

“I don’t see this program as giving out master’s degrees, but helping to redesign their health care system,” said Dan Mueller, assistant vice chancellor for international affairs. He has worked in the past with the Saudi ministry to run some hospitals.

Dr. Asaad Al-Asaad, chairman of King Fahad’s anesthesia department, said the health care sector in Saudi Arabia has been undergoing sweeping changes with movement toward privatization. Doctors are being given more responsibility to manage government-owned hospitals. Those who have just clinical training need to be more prepared in how to deal with budgets and finances, he said.

This Washington U. arrangement came about, in part, because the Saudi ministry has a couple of graduates in its ranks. One of them, Dr. Ali Al-Shanqeeti, did a three-year fellowship at the medical school. About a year ago, he approached the school to see whether it was interested in creating a program. Washington U. was selected among various schools.

Dr. Ibrahim Al Hoqail, dean of the faculty at King Fahad’s medical school, said the Saudis learned that Washington U. had a very good reputation.

Washington U.’s health administration program is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

The Saudi program at Washington U. may be just the beginning. The move toward privatizing health care is happening across the world so the demand to learn how to manage health care systems is growing, said Mueller.

Washington U. is also talking to Peking University in China about setting up a similar program. A group of school officials will be traveling to St. Louis in April to discuss more details. There also has been talk of a partnership with a school in India.

Al Hoqail said it’s not new for people from Saudi Arabia to go abroad for training — often to the U.S. “It’s a habit for Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Al Hoqail, for example, did some training in Vancouver, and Al-Asaad has done fellowships at Tufts University and Harvard University.

But what is new, Al Hoqail said, is a group coming together from the same place to get training at one place.

Other possible collaborations being discussed include nursing and physician training, patient referrals, exchange programs between the medical schools and curriculum development.

Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.