Student Spotlight: Arwa AlHilal

Enrolling in Weill Cornell Medicine’s MS in Healthcare Policy and Research program was anything but an arbitrary decision for Arwa AlHilal (’22). While growing up, she realized that healthcare quality varies tremendously across populations. As a result, she has committed her career to driving healthcare reform and improving access to quality care. The health policy and economics track is helping her achieve even more. 

Arwa AlHilal

With nine years of experience in health information management, Arwa has devoted herself to seeking challenges that allow her to develop rapidly and gain expertise. Pursuing the MS degree was an essential next step to moving from a narrower industry view to a more holistic one. “The success of any healthcare system is heavily reliant on implementing solid delivery methods to maintain the highest level of care,” she said. “What attracted me the most to WCM is that the core of the outstanding HPE program is focused on developing a thorough understanding of the healthcare system. We also receive hands-on training in systematically analyzing health policy and economics patterns, tackling health policy issues, and predicting patterns to achieve efficient and cost-effective healthcare delivery solutions.”

Arwa has particularly enjoyed Healthcare in the US – Policy Making and Political Strategy, taught by Sam Solomon, JD, adjunct professor of population health sciences. The course looks at the major trends occurring in healthcare from a provider viewpoint, how leaders respond to and anticipate these changes, and how these changes will shape future healthcare systems. “We covered a variety of topics ranging from the broad aspect of health policymaking in the political system to a more focused view of topics such as advocacy, immigrant health, and healthcare at correctional facilities,” Arwa said. These are important topics to her as she has spent the last few years getting more involved in social initiatives. “I have extended my outreach by volunteering internationally. I visited refugee camps and urban refugees to improve their living conditions and supported efforts to improve the local infrastructure of other underprivileged communities.” Arwa has cherished this work and it has inspired her to further scale up her health policy and economics skills to dedicate her career to supporting minority groups.

She has connected with many faculty members but has been especially pleased to learn from Dr. Sean Murphy, associate professor of population health sciences, and  Dr. Ali Jalali, assistant professor of population health sciences. She is impressed by their rich professional experience, noting that their passion for health economics made class immeasurably enjoyable and valuable. “Besides being super engaging in the classroom, Dr. Murphy and Dr. Jalali held small group sessions to offer guidance and tailored training when we were developing our final projects,” she said. “Learning from Dr. Murphy and Dr. Jalali enabled us to gain the skills needed to succeed in the field of health economic evaluations.”

The main highlight of Arwa’s journey at WCM was her portfolio project under the guidance and unwavering support of her faculty advisor, Dr. Czarina Behrends, assistant professor of population health sciences. With the substantial recent rise in opioid use disorder, the risk for HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) outbreaks among people who inject drugs has increased. Opioid treatment programs (OTPs) are prime venues where HIV/HCV testing and detection could be optimal for reaching high-risk populations. Arwa’s study, “Impact of State Policies on On-site Provision of HIV and HCV Testing at Outpatient Opioid Treatment Programs in the United States,” assessed whether statewide policies that recommend or require HIV/HCV testing increase the percentage of OTPs that offer on-site HIV/HCV testing. This project was in direct alignment with Arwa’s passion for improving healthcare services for minority groups, as its primary aim focused on enhancing healthcare for a segment of the society that is highly stigmatized. In addition, she appreciated the opportunity to learn from Dr. Behrends, an expert in health policy research on substance abuse disorders. Her dedication served as a great source of inspiration for Arwa. Beyond the classroom, Arwa immensely enjoyed her role as one of the student ambassadors of her track. It allowed her to connect with prospective students and reflect on her experience in the program.

After graduating, Arwa aims to be a major contributor to healthcare reform in her home country of Saudi Arabia. She is also eager to employ the knowledge she has gained at WCM in addressing healthcare challenges facing underprivileged societies world-wide and strongly recommends the program to prospective students. “My experience at WCM has been abundantly exciting and has enabled me to reach my dream of influencing and driving improvements in the healthcare sector globally.” In addition, “The diversity of my peers in the cohort took my experience to a whole new level. The support and dedication of the leadership, Office of International Student Services, and administrative staff must be noted. These are the heroes behind the scenes that always have an open door and a helping hand, dedicated to supporting the students in any way possible. Their enormous devotion is very well-acknowledged and deeply appreciated.”

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