Four Qatari high school students with passion for science have been chosen as winners of the annual Healing Hands Essay Competition run by Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q).

The four winners are Alia Salman Ashkanani and Ghalya Salman Ashkanani, both of Michael E Debakey High School; Khalifa Ahmed Elmagarmid from Qatar Academy; and Mashael Salem Al-Naemi of American School of Doha. They will each receive a two-week, fully-funded scholarship in the United States.

The winners will spend their first week at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York where they will work in the school’s world-class biomedical research laboratories, attend lectures with faculty, visit the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and learn what life is like for a medical student at the college. The second week will be spent at Cornell University in Ithaca where they will learn about reading scientific articles and writing and recording research results. WCM-Q funds the trip for each of the winners along with a chaperone to accompany them.

Noha Saleh, director of student recruitment and outreach at WCM-Q, said the trip was an opportunity of a lifetime.

As we know from previous winners of the competition – of whom many have gone on to study at Weill Cornell here in Qatar – the prize is truly inspiring. These high school students will be exposed to cutting-edge research and scientists who are at the forefront of knowledge creation and whose work is cited in top academic journals. These scholarships will really open their eyes and show them the opportunities that are available for those with dedication, passion, intelligence and perseverance.’

The topic for this year’s Healing Hands essay was ‘Overcoming Health-Related Stigma’. Mashael Al Naemi wrote on the subject of Down’s syndrome. She said a family friend had a daughter with the condition, and so Mashael had spoken to the girl about her experiences.

I talked to the girl and what she told me was my inspiration for my whole essay. I also contacted various schools in Qatar for children with Down syndrome and I looked at the charity work that’s done here. I feel that people with Down syndrome should be more visible in Qatar, for example, they should be on television; children at home should be able to see role models.’

Khalifa Elmagarmid said in his essay that there were huge stigmas associated with a number of diseases and that this can lead to exclusion from society. Khalifa argued that greater openness would mean people would access treatment quicker.

A total of 28 essays were submitted for the competition and each entrant was presented with a certificate of participation, 12 of whom also received the judging committee’s honourable mentions. WCM-Q Med 2 student Fahad Al Marri, a former winner of the Healing Hands Essay Competition spoke during the awards ceremony, explaining the importance of perseverance and how, on his first attempt, he failed to win. He tried again the following year and eventually named as one of the winners. He said that his scholarship to WCM in New York was a wonderful experience and that it really opened his eyes.

The prizes were presented by Dr Marco Ameduri, WCM-Q’s associate professor of physics and associate dean for pre-medical education.

Dr Ameduri said that the standard of essays proved to be particularly high this year and it was refreshing to read so many original, thought-provoking and well-articulated essays.

I sincerely hope that those who were not successful this time try again next year, and that everyone follows their passion for science and medicine. The Healing Hands scholarship programme has proven to be a real inspiration for Qatari students, encouraging them to study medicine and help fulfil the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030.’

Visit their website for more information on WCM-Q scholarships.