New Fellowships Provide Specialized Training to Saudi Medical Professionals

Program extends Cleveland Clinic’s commitment to global education and healthcare

While in medical school in Saudi Arabia, Baraa Abduljawad, MBBS, became intrigued by the field of hepatology. Soon after graduation, the young physician’s father was diagnosed with liver disease and, within a few months, his family embarked on the long journey to Cleveland Clinic for specialized treatment.

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“That experience lit a spark in me,” explains Dr. Abduljawad. “I immediately knew I wanted to have a connection with Cleveland Clinic at some point in my career, whether in training or as a full-time physician. There was no place else in the world that could provide the kind of care my father needed, and I wanted to be a part of that superior healthcare system in whatever way I could.”

After completing a residency in internal medicine at the University of Utah in 2016, Dr. Abduljawad’s wish came true. He landed back-to-back fellowships in critical care medicine and transplant hepatology under a Cleveland Clinic program designed for Saudi medical professionals.

“As far as I know, there are only a handful of physicians in North America who specialize in hepatology and critical care,” he says. “It would have been very difficult – if not impossible – for me to find another institution willing to support this unusual combination of clinical interests, so I’m extremely grateful for the possibilities this fellowship opened up for me.”

Global teamwork

An extension of Cleveland Clinic’s decades-long relationship with Saudi Arabia, the fellowships are supported by the Al Mouallem Fund, which was established in 2016 to foster the development of a sustainable international healthcare sector. The 2022-2023 fellowships will focus on three disciplines:

  • Cancer research
  • Pediatric blood and bone marrow transplants or sarcoma and outcomes research
  • One of five subspecialities or research in the field of anesthesiology

“These unique opportunities offer focused training to healthcare professionals and enable them to explore the latest techniques and research while working with leaders in their field,” explains cardiologist Maan Fares, MD, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Global Patient Services. “Offering fellowships is one of the ways in which we globally extend our mission of caring for life, researching for health and educating those who serve.”

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Ahmed AlGharrash, MBBS, who completed an anesthesiology fellowship at Cleveland Clinic in 2021, says the top-tier research and clinical diversity provided by the experience set it apart from other programs.

“I feel privileged to have trained at a healthcare institution that offers such a supportive framework for ongoing study,” he explains. “The exceptional training I received has helped prepare me to establish the same kind of protocols and structure when I return to Saudi Arabia to practice.”

During his fellowship, Dr. Abduljawad managed a dedicated liver disease clinic under the guidance of a mentor, where he saw a wide range of patients, from those with early-onset liver disease to patients with advanced liver disease requiring transplant. He also performed various hepatology procedures, including liver biopsies.

Now a staff physician at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, he says he is grateful for the breadth of patients and medical conditions he encountered during his fellowship.

“Cleveland Clinic has the largest liver transplant program in the U.S., so the sheer volume of cases I encountered afforded me opportunities I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” he says. “It was incredible to see such a vast, diverse group of patients from around the world all in one place.”

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Dr. AlGharrash led three prospective studies on new ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia techniques and perioperative site-specific analgesia during his time at Cleveland Clinic. He was also invited to present abstracts at the 2020 and 2021 annual meetings of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

“The fellowship gave me the freedom and support I needed to explore own developing interests,” says Dr. AlGharrash, who is now pursuing a perioperative medicine fellowship in an anesthesia subspecialty at McMaster University in Canada. “But the things I learned extended beyond medicine. I also learned a lot about the value of teamwork. Everyone in my department treated me like a part of the family.”

Dr. Abduljawad agrees.

“Fellows are a cornerstone of care at Cleveland Clinic, an institution that truly prizes lifelong learning,” he says. “The program helps you build the confidence needed to pursue your individual clinical and research interests, whatever they may be.”