In years to come, students from the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar will be fortunate enough to study at one of the most technologically advanced teaching hospitals in the world.

Rising out of the sands in the northern part of the Education City campus, the $2.3bn Sidra Medical & Research Centre is a futuristic, five-star hospital designed by Argentinean architect Cesar Pelli.

Due to open in 2012, the facility is being set up with a $7.9bn endowment from the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science & Community Development to promote healing, inspire learning and advance scientific dis-covery in the country. It is believed to be the largest endowment ever given to a private hospital, and the details of the covenants are highly confidential.

The centre will have a tripartite mission of clinical care, medical education and biomedical research.

“The vision behind the hospital has been articulated by its key benefactor, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned, and she has been behind the drive to address the need for a leading women’s and children’s hospital in Qatar,” explains Daniel Bergin, executive project director for Sidra. “She has always been clear in her mind that she wanted a state-of-the-art clinical facility that could address these issues and have a biomedical and teaching mission as well.”

Further expansion

The hospital will initially house 412 beds, but with the infrastructure to expand to 550 at a later date. The clinical focus will be on obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics, although Sidra will also offer select medical surgical services for adults, including organ transplants.

“The facility will address diseases that are specific to this country, and indeed to the region, so that means things like cancer and diabetes,” says Bergin.

The long-term vision is for Sidra to become a referral centre for patients from across the region. “This country is small,” says Bergin. “Even with all the expats the population is only 1.5 million, so we would need to source patients from neighbouring states otherwise we would not be able to sustain certain clinical services because the volumes are not here.”

Sidra will work closely with Qatar’s public health provider, Hamad Medical Corporation, to ensure the healthcare offered by the two entities is complementary and medical students can gain experience in as many fields as possible. It is estimated that Sidra will take about 50 per cent of the obstetrics volumes passing through Hamad, about 15,000 births a year.

Both Hamad and Weill Cornell Medical College will collaborate with Sidra in its biomedical research programme. The research will initially focus on pregnancy health and infertility, paediatric developmental and preventative health, and women’s health. It will apply the latest scientific techniques, including stem-cell research, genetics and functional and anatomical imaging.

The research themes will expand according to the expertise Sidra attracts – the possibility for researching bone marrow transplants is already under consideration, for example. Some 500-600 researchers will ultimately be recruited by Sidra.

Sidra expects to open with about 2,000 clinicians, biomedical researchers and technical and support staff. Given the high calibre of candidates demanded by the project, recruiting for these positions will be challenging, but Bergin is confident Sidra will be able to attract the right personnel.

“We have existing relationships with world-renowned institutions such as the University of Oxford, Imperial College in London, Northwestern University in the US and Weill Cornell, and of course and we are looking at how to leverage those partnerships,” says Bergin. “But the world has changed from a year ago so we are optimistic that given the resources available to the project, and also the physical facilities here, as well as the opportunity to take part in groundbreaking research, we will be able to address those issues. But that is not to say it will be easy.”

Sidra’s staff can expect to work with state-of-the-art technology. Having the most advanced IT is central to the project, and the clinical, research and administration systems will all be digital, with robotic pharmacies, computer-aided surgery and diagnostics. Some have even joked that Sidra is an IT project with healthcare attached.

Sidra is the Qatar Foundation’s largest undertaking to date, and with it, it is raising the bar for patient care in Qatar and the Middle East, as well as offering medical students an opportunity to work in a hospital designed and built for the 21st century.