Young children have the most innovative and novel ideas of what they want to be when they grow up. The dream jobs children aspire to be are windows to their passions and talents. Numerous studies have indicated that childhood experiences shape adult lives. This couldn’t be truer for Dr. Khalid Al-Khelaifi – the first Qatari graduate from Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q), a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university.
“As a Qatari, my country is my family,” says Dr. Khalid Al-Khelaifi, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sport medicine and traumatology at Aspetar, the region’s foremost sport medicine and rehabilitation center, and a FIFATM-accredited Medical Center of Excellence.
It was that sentiment, combined with a short stay in the hospital for a surgical procedure when he was barely 12-years-old, that set Al-Khelaifi on the path to attaining a triple first – becoming the first in his family to be a physician, the first Qatari to graduate from WCM-Q, and the first Qatari to work and train in the orthopedic program at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Lying in his hospital bed, the young Al-Khelaifi was impressed with the skills of the doctors who treated him. Watching them help other patients, he told himself that, one day, he would do the same.
Now, more than two decades later, Al-Khelaifi, who is also an Assistant Professor at WCM-Q, feels he has come a long way – with some help and support.
“I was willing to work hard,” he says. “All I needed was someone to believe in my potential and recognize my determination. And that’s where Qatar Foundation stepped in.”
“The beauty of living in Qatar, and having access to a Qatar Foundation education, is that no matter what background you come from, you can realize your potential.”
While at school, he won the Qatar Science Day award for the best student in 2001, and after graduating from high school with a final grade of 98.9 percent, he spent a year studying at the Academic Bridge Program, part of QF’s Pre-University Education, before joining WCM-Q.
Though used to hard work, Al-Khelaifi found both the competition and the curriculum at the medical school demanding. But the belief that his teachers and mentors placed in him kept him focused, and in his final year at WCM-Q, he was honored by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the Amir of Qatar, on the Scientific Day of Excellence award with the Platinum award.
By the time he completed his six-year medical course in 2008, as WCM-Q’s first Qatari graduate and the class valedictorian, he had already decided what his next goal would be: to specialize in orthopedics.
Al-Khelaifi joined the much sought-after orthopedic program in McGill University, Montreal, Canada, as the first Qatari on the program. It was during his grueling residency schedule – training, working, and shuttling between five hospitals in Montreal – that he got his first taste of sports medicine.
Often called to treat seriously-injured ice hockey players, Al-Khelaifi noticed how a single accident could potentially end the career of a player. A keen soccer player himself, he immediately saw an opportunity to combine his skills as an orthopedic surgeon with his love of sports, and help injured players regain their previous level of performance.
That meant studying and training – again. After his residency in Montreal, he moved to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, in the US state of Michigan, where he completed a Fellowship in Orthopedic Surgery and Endoscopy in the field of Sports Medicine, focusing on knee and shoulder surgery.
The young physician says he had “finally found my niche, and was ready to help my country.” He joined Aspetar in 2017, as a consultant in Orthopedics specializing in Sport Medicine and Traumatology.
I’ve been able to do so much because Qatar has developed as a center for excellence in sport, and sport medicine. We’re ready to host the FIFATM World Cup in 2022. We have demonstrated that we can provide first-rate clinical services for players and athletes, irrespective of nationality.
Serving his home country
When asked if, after almost two decades of studies and training, he has finally found time to relax, Al-Khelaifi smiles. “I never looked at it that way. In fact, even while I was in Canada and the US, I was impatient to come home and apply what I had learnt.”
Since joining Aspetar, the sport medicine specialist’s role has extended beyond surgery; he trains other surgeons from across the world, some of whom come from as far as South America, to learn more about sport medicine at Aspetar. He also teaches students at his alma-mater WCM-Q, and at Qatar University, in addition to conducting research and presenting papers at conferences.
“I’ve been able to do so much because Qatar has developed as a center for excellence in sport, and sport medicine,” he says. “We’re ready to host the FIFATM World Cup in 2022. We have demonstrated that we can provide first-rate clinical services for players and athletes, irrespective of nationality.
“When it comes to sport, this country has the ability to be the best in the world. And that’s why I’m here. I want to contribute to that story.”