Masters at Harvard Medical School - Omar Abu-Qamar
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
لقراءة النسخة العربية اضغط هنا.
Hometown: Amman, Jordan
Undergraduate: University of Jordan (M.D.)
Masters: Master of Medical Sciences in Clinical Investigation (M.M.Sc) at Harvard Medical School
Field: Medicine. Clinical Research.
TL;DR: Omar Abu Qamar, #MD is a medical graduate from the University of Jordan. After graduation, he spent some time in Jordan working with NGOs, before moving to Boston in 2016 to complete the MMSCI program. Currently Omar is a research fellow in ophthalmogy, and an incoming ophthalmogy resident at Tufts University in Boston.
Omar, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Omar Abu-Qamar. I am from Amman, Jordan, and I earned my M.D. degree from the University of Jordan. Two key experiences during my medical school years helped me shape my early career; the first was being active in students’ organizations during medical school (IFMSA-Jo), which made the transition to work in the field of NGOs for some time after graduation natural. The second was rotating as a student at the ophthalmology department in Jordan and in the US where my interest in this field started, and slowly but surely turned into a passion. Seeking a solid and comprehensive training in clinical research, I moved to Boston in 2016 to join the Master of Medical Sciences in Clinical Investigation (#MMSCI) program at the Harvard Medical School. I completed the MMSCI program in 2018, and currently working as a research fellow in eye imaging, and I will be starting my residency training program next year in Boston.
Let’s go back in time a little. When did you first consider applying to universities abroad? When did you first start preparing for the application process? How did you prepare for the application process?
As I mentioned above I grew up in Amman, and I attended a school that was praised for its very rigorous and traditional teaching in the Arabic language. The fact that late King Hussein and King Abdullah II of Jordan both started their education in this school remains one of its biggest honors that is always celebrated to this day! But with such traditional and maybe rigid teaching (at least during my time), the idea of continuing my education abroad was a very far thought. It wasn’t until late in my medical school years that I was exposed to training abroad as a rotating student at Weill Cornell in NYC, where I realized the great potential of receiving training abroad. Specifically, the potential of pursuing a career as a physician-scientist that combines both clinical practice with clinical research.
One of the advantages of attending medical school at the University of Jordan was that students receive a solid clinical training. On the other hand, research training is not well integrated into the curriculum, and motivated students had to put effort and network in order to create research opportunities. Therefore, driven by my goal to pursue a career as a physician-scientist drove me to obtain a solid foundation in research skills by joining the MMSCI program, which was a deviation from the conservative path of medical graduate where residency training is the obvious next step, but a necessary step to attain my goal.
How did funding fit in the picture? Tell us more about this process and any advice you may have for others?
Funding is a key factor to consider when thinking of applying to the MMSCI program. The tuition fees are high and living in Boston can be costly. That said, there are opportunities for scholarships that are listed on the MMSCI website, and I want to highlight the Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research since it is primarily available for our region, and that’s where I got my scholarship from. More details on this funding opportunity can be found on their website, but my advice is to apply even if you think you don’t fully fit the “ideal candidate” criteria. The other way of supplementing your income is by applying to grants. For example, I received a grant from the Center For Global Health Deliver for a project I conducted in the Philippines which was a fun and fruitful project but also supplemented my income. Lastly, you can always ask for funding from the lab you will be working at. This is subject to availability of funding to the primary investigator/mentor you work with but definitively worth discussing, especially closer to your second year of the master program when you can contribute more to the lab.
Is there anything that you wish someone had told you to consider when applying to universities abroad? What advice do you have for students who are interested in applying?
The MMSCI program offers a unique curriculum where one can learn how to conduct research in a classroom setting but also have a direct hands-on experience to apply this knowledge while working in a lab as a research fellow. This design made the MMSCI program very attractive to me as a fresh medical graduate and a perfect fit to bridge my medical training to clinical research.
I was hesitant to apply at first, given that I didn’t have extensive research experience, but I was wrong. What is more important is highlighting your passion for research, and the potential of using the skills you will gain in the future. You can demonstrate this by showing a clear vision of what area within medicine attracts you and what question(s) within this field puzzles you and motivates you to join such a program to be equipped with the necessary tools to answer. This is where the personal statement becomes very important and can make up for the lack of a large list of publications in your #CV. Your #letters of recommendation (LOR) are also a vital part of your application, and my advice to you is to ask for at least one letter from a mentor who you worked closely with and knows you at a personal level. Such a letter will probably be more impactful than a very standard and general letter from the head of the department for example. One aspect the MMSCI program focuses on is the ability to work well in teams since this is a core aspect of the master program design. So try to highlight this in your personal statement and LORs as well.
Any other pieces of advice?
Spend some time knowing what your goals are, and once that is clear and you believe a master program would help you get there, apply. Do not let the lack of experience or being intimidated by the institutions’ names stop you from applying.
If you are interested to learn more about Omar's experience, check out this interview he conducted on his experience becoming a Clinician-Scientist.