Education Excellence Award: An Interview with Sara Al-Khawaga

Education Excellence Award: An Interview with HBKU’s Sara Al-Khawaga

01 Mar 2021

Education Excellence Award: An Interview with HBKU’s Sara Al-Khawaga

Sara Al-Khawaga, a graduate of Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s (HBKU) College of Health and Life Sciences, is an awardee of this year’s Education Excellence Award. In this q-and-a, we speak to her about the merits of the award, and how her education at HBKU has helped hone all necessary skills for the success of her career.

Tell us about your area of study at HBKU.

My PhD project is the first national study conducted in the State of Qatar aiming to identify the clinical spectrum and genetic characteristics of monogenic diabetes among the Qatari population, with a spotlight on using pluripotent stem cells technology to demonstrate a novel cellular model of the disease.

Why did you choose this area for your career?

My PhD project falls within the scope of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), as it aims to establish a novel model of personalized treatment in the field of childhood diabetes, the most common endocrine and metabolic disease in children. My research project further addresses one of the most important national healthcare priorities, diabetes, through a translational research approach that builds upon the current research infrastructure to foster innovation and, ultimately, to create state-of-the-art medical care for patients in Qatar.  

The National Diabetes Strategy was launched in Qatar in May 2016 under the theme ‘Preventing Diabetes Together 2016-2022’, and its ultimate aim is to significantly reduce the burden of diabetes in the country and to provide medical care at a standard of excellence that stands out at a regional and international level. 

My research project is further strongly aligned with the path towards personalized medicine research priorities, where it aims to provide tailored healthcare for diabetic patients based on their genetic profile to guide decisions made in regard to treatment, moving from raw genetic to clinical data. My research project further aims to promote scientific excellence through the establishment of an interdisciplinary collaboration team of national and international researchers and clinicians in the field of diabetes and metabolic disorders (reflected in my 15 publications), with broad opportunities for knowledge transfer and the development of an integrated healthcare program inside Qatar.

What does today's recognition mean for you?

I am very happy to have been selected for the Education Excellence Award for the outstanding researcher in the PhD holder category.

The award means a lot to me. To receive the award from His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Amir of the State of Qatar - May Allah Protect him, and to be recognized among so many outstanding applicants is a great honor. The award that I have received recognizes and honors the outstanding accomplishments of Qatari PhD holders in the scientific field.

I’m also proud of my achievement as this award was highly competitive and only goes to one PhD holder applicant from the scientific field annually.

In what ways will this recognition motivate you to achieve even more in the future?

The award further consolidates a culture of excellence in my current field in medicine and scientific research. I continue to work towards achieving our healthcare strategies. Being in the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic further consolidates the importance of scientific research, where addressing the diabetic population remains a priority for all physicians. I continue to work as a senior dermatology resident in our national hospital, Hamad Medical Corporation, and I do so with great interest in the field of diabetes mellitus related to inflammatory dermatological disorders.

In what ways do you believe HBKU helped you achieve this award?

I’m extremely grateful for the outstanding learning experience I received at the College of Health and life Sciences (CHLS) at HBKU. I’m also very proud to be part of the great research being done in Qatar. Being able to address some of our healthcare challenges and priorities during my PhD studies was definitely a great honor.

Finally, I cannot thank Dr. Abdelalim, my PhD supervisor, enough for the great supervision I have received throughout my four-years at CHLS. I learned a lot, and I continue to do so, and I am definitely looking forward to giving back to HBKU one day via motivating future scientists to study in Qatar.

Do you hope your award will inspire others at HBKU to try and emulate your success?

I hope that my achievement helps inspire young Qatari women to pursue a career in medicine and scientific research. I also hope that my colleagues will always keep in mind that giving back to our county and helping to maintain a culture of sustainability is absolutely crucial. I am extremely proud that this award recognized an accomplishment of great work done in The State of Qatar, in Qatari labs, functioning with Qatari physicians and scientists, and the results of this clinical and basic research are further translated back to the Qatari population. Having this great national vision that is inspired by our country’s leaders makes me extremely happy.

Anything else you would like to add?

I have pursued my medical school here in Qatar at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, which has provided me with the best medical foundation and great critical thinking skills. The great learning environment provided by Qatar Foundation further motivated me to pursue my PhD degree in Biological and Biomedical Sciences at CHLS. HBKU has further provided me with state-of-the-art education and training to accomplish my research. Therefore, I am extremely grateful for the inspiring environment within QF.