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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Fadia AlBuhairan

Fadia AlBuhairan

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Occupation: Deputy chief medical officer and chair of the Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, AlDara Hospital and Medical Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; adjunct professor, AlFaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; adjunct professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

Current Residence: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Degrees: PhD from Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands, 2019 (expected),  MPH ’17

The Bloomberg School is home to over 2,000 students from more than 85 countries who meet here in Baltimore to pursue their public health education. Many of those students then return to practice public health in their home countries.

Their careers span consulting, research, academia, and more. Whether they’re influencing policy or training future practitioners, they’re all working to protect health and save lives—millions at a time.

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What was the path to your degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health?

I am an adolescent medicine physician. My practice at the time was a mix of clinical, research and advocacy, so I had already been doing a lot with regard to population health. I really wanted to have formal training and education to complement the work I was doing. 

The Bloomberg School is the No. 1 school of public health—and I usually strive for the very best—so this was my first choice. 

I was a full-time professional, so it would have been difficult for me to take time off [from] my work and family life here to join a full-time program. The fact that the School offers a part-time program made it even easier to pursue that. 

What do you think makes the Bloomberg School unique compared to other schools of public health? 

It’s got a broad range of public health areas, in addition to having such a diverse range of experts who are readily available to engage with and learn from. Having such close proximity to the medical school and Johns Hopkins Medicine is great. Mixing with the medical community puts population health issues into perspective. As a clinician, I have to bridge my backgrounds in medicine and population health to address health more comprehensively.  

What was your experience like living in Baltimore? Were your expectations different from the reality?

Being in the part-time program, I wasn’t living there full-time. I would come and go a couple of times a year to do some coursework onsite. I loved it when I was there. I loved having that opportunity to be on campus. You do meet a lot of people online, but it’s certainly different when you get to meet those people in person. It’s not only the courses and classes you’re taking. There’s so much going on—different seminars or talks or lectures—you don’t have time to get bored.

Tell me about your career now. How are you applying what you learned at the Bloomberg School?

I wear a couple of different hats in my current institution. This is a brand new hospital, and we haven’t actually begun our operations yet. I was invited to join the leadership team to establish a health care delivery system—to set up a whole new hospital. It’s really a unique opportunity to establish a health care delivery system that addresses patients’ needs in a way that supports improving overall population health. In my area of specialty, I’ve developed our health care model for children and adolescents. There are so many things you can incorporate early in life to help prevent noncommunicable chronic diseases. 

The bulk of my research is based in adolescent health. One of the things I’m quite proud of is having led a national study on adolescent health in Saudi Arabia with over 12,000 participants. For the very first time, this shows us the data of the young people in the country. 

Prior to this study, we as a country did not have data on adolescent health needs per se. Data has always looked at below age 15 or above age 15 with no disaggregation of the various ages. Historically, individuals have been viewed as either “children” or “adults” with age 15 being the cut-off. Adolescence, defined as 10-19 years of age, is a distinct period in life and adolescent needs are different than those of adults or children. Having evidence-based data is important in guiding policy and program development/implementation. We addressed physical, mental, and social aspects of health, including determinants of health. Only by addressing the social determinants of health are you able to address health problems comprehensively.

What do you see as the biggest public health challenges in your country?

Number 1: Access to care. 

Geographically, it is a big country, so access may be less challenging in the big cities but more of a challenge in the rural areas. But even in the large cities such as Riyadh, access may still be difficult because of long waiting times. 

Another thing—and this probably isn’t too different from the U.S. and Canada—the increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases is huge. A lot of these conditions are the result of behaviors that begin early in adolescence, so that’s where my role as an adolescent medicine physician kicks in. When we focus on prevention and teaching children and adolescents healthy behaviors, not only are we supporting the young people but we’re also supporting them into their future adult lives. 

What career and research opportunities are available for public health professionals in Saudi Arabia?

There has been increasing attention to public health in very recent years here. With the country’s Vision 2030, which was launched a few years ago, there’s a big focus on improving population health. With that comes opportunities, both in terms of interventional program service delivery and research.

Do you have any advice for prospective public health students?

Be open to the various opportunities that will come your way. There are so many areas of public health, and I would recommend [that] students try different courses from various areas. 

The other thing I would say is that I found it very beneficial to have work experience prior to joining the program. With those experiences, you might understand the practice or implications of something more. I found that my clinical and research experience prior to joining the program contributed to the depth of my learning during the MPH. It allowed me to apply my learning to real experiences, examples/situations, and challenges. 

I would also say, apart from “enjoy it”—because it really is a lot of fun—try to meet and learn not just from the academics and the courses, but from the wide, diverse group of people you will be studying with. Take advantage of learning from your peers.

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