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Visiting scholar from Iraq

April 09, 2013
Image credit: Amal Al-Samerraee

According to statistics from Bechtel International Center, Stanford University hosted 1543 visiting scholars (including post-docs) from 68 countries in December 2012.  While the number of faculty and where they come from may change from year to year, the importance of international collaboration and exchange remains a constant. Visiting scholars play an important role in helping Stanford to increase openness and broaden its understanding of the world.

On the first day that I met Dr. Al-Samerraee, she was dressed formally in a long skirt and heels, unaware of the scale involved in exploring Stanford’s 8,180 acres.  That day we walked from the medical school, to Encina Hall, to Bechtel International Center and to Forsythe Hall. After a few weeks, I checked in with Dr. Al-Samerraee to see how she was settling in. This time, she seemed not only happier, but also more familiar with her surroundings. Like most everyone else, she had embraced the casual campus atmosphere and had changed her attire to jeans and comfortable shoes. Here are snippets from that conversation.

Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do in Iraq.

I am an assistant professor in the Dept. of Community and Family Medicine in the College of Medicine at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad. I teach undergraduate and postgraduate students and conduct and supervise research work. From 2006-2009, I was the assistant dean for scientific affairs and postgraduate studies.

In 2007, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research established the National Committee for Accrediting Iraqi Medical Colleges of which I am member.

Through collaboration with the World Health Organization/Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, the National Committee for Accrediting Iraqi Medical Colleges conducted a series of conferences and workshops. As a result of these activities all stakeholders have agreed upon National Standards for Accreditation of Iraqi Medical Colleges. These standards are consistent with those of the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) based in Copenhagen.

All 23 medical colleges in Iraq have conducted self-assessment studies, written self-assessment reports, and submitted their reports to the National Committee for Accrediting Iraqi Medical Colleges. The work is ongoing and colleges are collaborating with different international experts to pursue the required standards to get internationally accredited.

2. How did the opportunity to come to Stanford University arise?

I received an email from Amideast, a non-profit organization that is focused on activities in the Middle East and Africa, about a fellowship opportunity from the Iraqi Women’s Fellowship Foundation (IWFF). Founded in 2008, IWFF initially started with seed money from the US Embassy in Baghdad with the goal to empower Iraqi women in the fields of engineering and applied sciences. Currently, the foundation has the resources to fund 3 scholarships a year and is looking for more funding to increase that number. In addition to Stanford, some of the other US universities that previous fellows have attended include CalTech, MIT, andUC Berkley Engineering.

After the program in the US, the fellows must return to Iraq and work for 2-3 years. Although IWFF is a relatively young program, former fellows have initiated ambitious projects at home including those that are related to infrastructure, renewable energy, and water treatment.

3. What do you hope to bring back to Iraq after you complete your fellowship?

First and foremost, I will bring back and put into practice all that I have learned about staff and curriculum development. I am currently taking a month long Medical Trainer-Facilitators course through the Stanford Faculty Development Center that I hope will take my teaching knowledge and skills to the next level.

There is daily reading, homework and practicums where we can practice our skills with mock learners, get videotaped and receive evaluations. This course will give me the skills to transfer Stanford expertise to Iraq and ultimately improve medical training and services in Iraq. Within the first year of completing the course, I am required to conduct two courses like this at home. The first course will be for faculty and the second course will be for residents. Looking longer term, I think these courses will be even more beneficial to the faculty and staff of newly established medical colleges.

Currently, there are 94 non-Stanford institutions that have sent faculty to attend the Medical Trainer-Facilitators course, 7 of which are from non-US institutions. I’m glad to add Al-Nahrain University in Iraq to that list.

4. What are some of the challenges that you faced coming to Stanford?

The biggest challenge for me is being apart from my family. I come from a close-knit family that includes my husband, children and brothers and sisters and this is the first time I’ve been away from home for more than a month.

Other unexpected challenges that I didn’t expect were the IT challenges of setting up a new office space: getting a phone line, a laptop and connectivity to a printer are some small issues that I have had to deal with.

5. Do you have any words of advice for future visiting scholars/faculty?

I would encourage future faculty/scholars coming to Stanford to ensure that they live close to campus and have an easy commute if they don’t intend to have a car. When I first arrived, I was assigned to housing in Redwood City. Although Redwood City is not far away, my commute to and from campus was anywhere from 1.5-2 hours each way because I relied on public transportation. Dr. Kelley Skeff, my sponsor, was kind enough to help me find housing in Menlo Park, which is much closer to campus and within walking distance of a Marguerite (Stanford’s free shuttle) bus stop. I can now spend more time studying and learning and less time commuting.