When people see New York in the movies, the city always looks majestic and familiar. Wether the view is of Central Park, the Empire State Building or Fifth Avenue, it is one of the most famous cities in the world. New York is also known as “the city that never sleeps,” and the saying goes, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
That is exactly what 28-year-old Omar Al-Harb of Riyadh has done. He just became the chief resident physician for pediatrics at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx area of New York. Speaking to Saudi Gazette about his achievement, Dr. Al-Harb said: “Being elected as a chief resident in our residency program gives me an extraordinary sense of responsibility. I am looking for this experience and will try to use it as a milestone in improving my knowledge and leadership skills.” He is certainly qualified, having graduated from King Saud University College of Medicine in Riyadh in 2012; then in 2013, he came to the US to join Johns Hopkins University and completed a master of public health (MPH). He is now in his second year of a 3-year pediatric residency program.
Being a doctor is something Omar wanted to be from an early age. During his interview from New York, Omar said, “This was a lifelong dream since childhood. Wearing the white coat, helping and connecting with people in need drove my desire to pursue medicine as a career. Hospital settings and the exciting life of doctors always fascinated me. During my clinical rotations in medical school, I realized that pediatrics in the right career path for me. I believe that being able to help children is very rewarding on the personal level. Now I am sure that I chose a speciality that provides me with daily happiness. I also enjoy making stupid faces and making infants smile and laugh every morning during our hospital rounds.”
Those smiles are certainly needed in treating some of the patients he sees. What many people do not know is New York is made up of five boroughs, with the Bronx being the most populated, the most violent, and the poorest.
“The population in the Bronx is overwhelmingly disadvantaged in many aspects. Most patients and families are of low socioeconomic status, which is a major risk factor for health problems affecting children. We see also number of adolescents who are in juvenile detention centers. These facts forced me to pay more attention to the social status when taking care of every child.” Dr Al-Harb told Saudi Gazette.
“During my Master of Public Health studies at Hopkins I learned thoroughly about the social determinants in health, and I am currently seeing them at play in the Bronx. I feel definitely honored to have a chance to serve such disadvantaged community.”
New Yorkers are known to be a tough crowd, and full of strong opinions. So when asked how patients react to Omar being from Saudi Arabia he said, “I have to say that initially it was always followed by a period of silence and surprise facial expressions. Unfortunately, media in the United States commonly portrays Saudi Arabia in a negative manner. Therefore, I do not blame patients and peers for their reserved feelings initially when they encounter a person from Saudi Arabia for the first time. It usually takes a few seconds for them to realize that I am a very friendly and passionate young person and physician who believes that patients’ care and their satisfaction is a priority. Now I have an exceptional relationship with all my patients, colleagues and supervisors. I take the chance to celebrate with them all national and religious holidays and occasions.”
Many of his patients and colleagues end up wanting to know more about the Kingdom. While speaking to Saudi Gazette Dr. Al-Harb said: “I tell everybody here that we have very advanced medical cities and are continuously improving health care system. I also tell them that there are many young Saudi physicians training in the United States and Canada to eventually bring the best and most updated medical knowledge and practices to Saudi Arabia.”
As he looks ahead, Dr. Al-Harb said, “I believe that I am still a young physician in the making and have to learn a lot to be able to offer meaningfully. However, if there is one message to deliver to young Saudi professionals, I will tell them that make sure you do something you love, do it with passion and commitment. Commitment is the key to success.”
That is certainly true for New York’s latest chief resident physician, who just happens to be from Saudi Arabia.