Hatem O. Qutub, MD, FCCP, strives for excellence in King Faisal’s Respiratory program

Five years of training makes graduates of King Faisal’s respiratory program the most sought after in Saudi Arabia.

At some schools, it takes as little as 2 years to produce a qualified respiratory care practitioner. At others, 4 years. But in Saudi Arabia, respiratory care students spend a full 5 years learning the science and art of respiratory care before being sent out into the world with a baccalaureate degree in hand.

Accordingly, newly minted Saudi respiratory therapists are among the best trained of any—and, as such, are among those most coveted by prospective employers the world over.

The preeminent place of teaching for Saudi students who desire to become respiratory care professionals is King Faisal University in the Persian Gulf port city of Dammam.

“Since its inception, our respiratory care program has strived to achieve excellence,” says Hatem O. Qutub, MD, FCCP, chairman of the Department of Respiratory Care. “We do this by using a multipronged teaching strategy that includes a well-structured curriculum, qualified educators, and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment. All of it is designed to ensure that students obtain the necessary knowledge and clinical skills to be able to function as quality-driven, patient-centric respiratory care practitioners.”

The school’s instructional approach also involves clinical exposure at the earliest possible juncture. “Principles and theories alone are like idle tools for an inexperienced mind,” says Qutub. “Thus do we require our students to participate in clinical practice courses 1 day a week for 14 weeks, beginning the second semester of the year they attain Level II status,” which is approximately the same as being a sophomore in an American college or university. “As early as Level II, our respiratory care students are deployed to several clinical facilities so that they can better develop their grasp of respiratory care diagnostic and therapeutic management procedures. The goal is to inculcate high-quality education so that we can assure a high-quality standard of teaching and learning.”

The school also puts its students through some rather sophisticated exercises in various skills laboratories. These exercises—which include pulmonary function testing simulations—take place under the guidance of top-flight educators. “The idea is to give our students the best in experiences and instruction so that, when they leave here, they enter the field on the cutting edge of practice,” says Qutub.

Education Is Free

In all of Saudi Arabia, there are nearly 40 universities, colleges, and other schools of specialized learning: Admissions requirements for King Faisal University are among the most stringent. “Students who want to enroll find that ours is almost the hardest—if not the hardest—in the entire kingdom to get into,” says Qutub.

About the only aspect of admission that can be considered easy is the tuition. It’s free. In Saudi Arabia, all halls of higher learning are part of the government-funded public school system.

King Faisal University was founded in 1975 about 100 miles south of Dammam in the oasis city of Al-Hasa, where its main campus continues to be located. The university is perhaps best known for its medical and allied health schools, both of which are situated on the Dammam campus. The respiratory care program operates under the auspices of the Dammam campus’s College of Applied Medical Sciences (CAMS) and utilizes 600-bed King Fahad University Hospital in the neighboring city of Al-Khobar as its chief clinical teaching facility.

Prior to 1995, CAMS was a unit of the College of Medicine-Dammam. CAMS was officially known until then as the Medical Laboratory Technology Department. Today, CAMS is made up of a quintet of departments: Respiratory Therapy, Physiotherapy, Medical Laboratory Technology, Environmental Health, and Health Information Management and Technology. In addition, the 2007-2008 academic year will see the start of two programs reflecting new and growing demands for cardiovascular technology and medical imaging providers. CAMS functions with the help of 75 clinical, scientific, and administrative employees under the direction of academic leader Basil Al-Shaikh, MD.

The university esteems respiratory care because of the discipline’s increasingly vital role in helping other fields achieve success of their own. “Respiratory care practitioners provide basic services in our hospital wards and then everything on up to cardiac critical care, in addition to pulmonary rehabilitation and home care,” says Qutub. “The patients they work with range from those with simple, easily managed therapeutic needs to those in dire straits with complicated, comprehensive needs.”

Vibrant, Breathtaking Land

The Saudi Penninsula. Dammam is circled in red.

Saudi Arabian culture revolves around the religion of Islam. That is true of life at King Faisal University as well. The school is closed on weekends, which, in the Moslem world, arrives on Thursday and extends through Friday (the latter being the holiest day of all).

Students and instructors at the university dress in keeping with the Islamic principle of modesty. Men frequently wear a thawb (an ankle-length wool or cotton shirt) topped by a keffiyeh and ghutra (a headpiece made of a large, folded square of fine cotton and secured by a cord—a keffiyeh has a checkered pattern and a ghutra is plain white). Women often dress in an abaya (a long cloak) and a niqab (veil).

The tenets of Islam also forbid students and teachers from eating pork or drinking alcohol. The typical Saudi diet features khobz (an unleavened bread), lamb, grilled chicken, falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shawarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and Ful medames (a paste of fava beans, garlic, and lemon). Tea served plain or with herbal flavoring is the beverage of choice at both formal and informal school-related functions.

Approximately 27 million people live in Saudi Arabia, counting the roughly 7 million foreign-born who reside there (the largest non-Arab ethnic group is made up of people from India; approximately one-half million westerners live in Saudi Arabia, either permanently or temporarily). Close to 750,000 people live in Dammam alone. Dammam holds the distinction of being the largest of Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf cities and is the capital of the kingdom’s eastern province. A huge seaport is located there; together with Al-Khobar and the two other neighboring cities of Qatif and Dhahran, Dammam serves as a powerful economic hub for the region.

It is, however, uncomfortably hot in Dammam during summer—daytime temperatures consistently exceed 120°F, with the humidity climbing into the 90% range. Even at that, the city receives less than 4 inches of rainfall in an average year. And, although the majority of the Arabian landmass is too dry to support agriculture, large swaths of it do produce an abundance of pollen-spewing weeds and shrubs. Consequently, a portion of the populace endures seasonal allergies, and asthma is a problem.

Fueled by revenues from oil production, the Saudi economy is booming. That has led to the birth of a new city where, no doubt, some of the respiratory care graduates from King Faisal University will find themselves soon employed. The city springing forth—King Abdullah Economic City—is located on the Saudi west coast and is being built as a master-planned metropolis. The Saudis are plowing at least $27 billion into this massive undertaking, which was begun in 2005. When completed, the city will feature the kingdom’s largest seaport and will be a haven for tourism, education, research, finance, and diverse other fields.

Acquisition of Knowledge

King Faisal University respiratory care students learn early on that they need to be fully committed to their profession and always exhibit fealty to the ideals of quality care.

“We want our respiratory care practitioners to be both empathetic and sympathetic in their dealings with patients, because we so greatly prize care that acknowledges the dignity of human life,” says Qutub.

Knowledge acquired by students comes, for the most part, from classroom instruction and laboratory training. However, the school in recent years has placed more emphasis on the impartation of clinical information and skills through attendance at symposia and other high-level peer-to-peer forums. This is done in the belief that honing education using the broadest possible channels produces superior respiratory therapists, Qutub indicates.

The students attend day-to-day lectures in classrooms designed to seat 20. Each of these classrooms is constructed with built-in slide and data projectors to abet oral presentations of many types.

Online instruction—e-learning, as Qutub brands it—is a major element of both classroom and laboratory instruction. “E-learning combines modern audiovisual equipment with computers and up-to-date software, models, and manikins,” he says. “These allow us to simulate actual patient conditions and clinical scenarios so that we can reinforce what is taught in lectures and during laboratory training sessions. We believe these afford us significant advantages in being able to enhance the learning experience of our students.”

Meanwhile, equipment used by the students includes advanced simulated patient systems, such as the SimMan® type, and different brands of ventilators from Viasys, Bear, Nellcor Puritan Bennett, Dräger, and others.

Graduates of this program at King Faisal University are sought after by hospitals and other care providers because the school is the only one in the kingdom offering the 5-year baccalaureate degree in respiratory care. But that is only half the story. Qutub tells the rest: “Most of the tertiary and secondary hospitals in Saudi Arabia prefer to hire our graduates because they exude high-caliber knowledge and professionalism. That’s what employers want most in a just-out-of-school respiratory care practitioner.”

Rich Smith is a contributing writer for  RT. For more information, contact [email protected].

Respiratory care students at King Faisal University advance to progressively higher status as they grow in knowledge and skills.

“Our students are categorized into various levels,” says Hatem O. Qutub, MD, FCCP, chairman of the Department of Respiratory Care.

The lowest rank is called Level I. It roughly corresponds to the freshman year in an American college or university. By the time they reach Level II (the loose equivalent of a US sophomore), students are expected to have mastered their lessons to the extent that they can, in a clinical setting, perform observations and basic therapeutic procedures, such as patient assessment, vital signs, medical history, SOAP notes, and oxygen therapy.

“In principle, they must by this stage of training have familiarity with the services rendered in the hospital by respiratory care practitioners,” Qutub explains.

During their first semester as Level III students, the collegians have a hand in providing to chronic, mildly symptomatic patients certain basic therapeutic interventions and management services. For example, they perform aerosol therapy and airway care techniques, along with establishing and maintaining bronchial hygiene. Then, in the second semester of that same year, the focus shifts to caring for critically ill patients—typically, those receiving mechanical ventilation and requiring more sophisticated airway management.

When they achieve Level IV rank, students are deemed ready to work with neonatal and pediatric patients. In the second semester of their Level IV career, students can expect to encounter almost everything a licensed respiratory care provider does in routine daily practice and frenzied emergency situations. “This is the last stop for students before they begin internship training,” says Qutub, who adds that internship takes place in year 5 of their enrollment in the respiratory care program.

The faculty is composed of 18 instructors and administrators. They are: Hatem O. Qutub, MD, chairman of the Department of Respiratory Care; Dr Ghazi Alotaibi, vice dean for training affairs and for academic affairs for the College of Applied Medical Sciences; Dr Amr Noueam, associate professor for respiratory physiology and pulmonary function testing; Dr Moustafa Shaheen, associate professor for chest diseases; Dr Noha Ibrahim, assistant professor; Mohammad Yadak, lecturer; Ghazi Al-Hussein, lecturer; Abigail Trinidad-Argarin, clinical coordinator; Ahmed Mansi, RC skill laboratory director; Jose Rex Navarrosa, clinical instructor; Omar al-Omar, RC skill laboratory coordinator (male section); Shoug Al-Humoud, RC demonstrator; Maali Qahtani, RC skill laboratory coordinator (female section); Noor Al-Khathlan, demonstrator; Azza Nabulsi, demonstrator; Abdullah Mojaible, demonstrator; Nawal Al-Otaibi, clinical instructor; and Cynthia Navarrosa, department secretary.