Occupational therapist Alaa Festok has become the first Qatari man and only the second Qatari national to pass the United States-based National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination. Festok, who joined Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Rumailah Hospital in 2010, is now a US-Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR).
Festok chose occupational therapy as a career after training at HMC. “I read an article in the newspaper about a program for Qatari high school graduates interested in a career in rehabilitation. HMC took about ten people and trained us in rehabilitation services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy,” said Festok, adding that he worked with a colleague from Nigeria who helped his interest in the field to grow.
“After two years of training, HMC sponsored my education in the USA, which I am very grateful for,” said Festok, who became eligible to take the examination after completing his Masters of Occupational Therapy from Saint Louis University in 2009 – the first Qatari man to acquire this degree from a US university.
The NBCOT examination is based on a comprehensive practice analysis that determines critical knowledge, skills and abilities of occupational therapists. The NBCOT provides a world-class standard for certification of occupational therapy practitioners. It develops, administers and continually reviews a certification process that reflects current standards of competent practice in the field.
Now working full time in the Hand Therapy Unit at HMC, Festok is one of 13 occupational therapists caring for 125-150 patients per day, most with work-related or road accident-related injuries. He also wants to pass on his own learning and enthusiasm to his colleagues.
Festok encourages fellow Qataris to explore possible careers in healthcare and pursue whatever interests them. “HMC may consider supporting them financially if they have good grades and show that they are willing to learn,” he said.
“We are proud to have Alaa here with us,” said Sultan Salem Hammam Al-Abdullah, Chief of the Occupational Therapy Department, adding that Festok also plans to go for the prestigious Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) credential after the required five years of specialized practice as a hand therapist. Al-Abdullah and Festok are among five Qatari occupational therapists currently practicing in Qatar, four of whom work at HMC.
“Being an OTR basically assures the public that the occupational therapist who is treating them has reached a certain standard of competency,” said Monique LeBlanc, Acting Supervisor of the Hand Therapy Unit. LeBlanc explained that the OTR is a required qualification for all occupational therapists practicing in the USA. “Alaa’s eagerness to learn and dedication to the unit make him a valuable asset to HMC.”
Al-Abdullah and LeBlanc underscored the importance of Qatari nationals’ involvement in healthcare for the country’s development, as well as in terms of providing culturally competent care to the growing population. “It is difficult for patients when they cannot communicate clearly and oftentimes language can cause some communication barriers. So to have a Qatari on the team who is able to communicate with the patients and understand them on a cultural level is very comforting for the patients.”
LeBlanc further commended the excellent support extended by HMC for Qatari staff in terms of professional development, helping them to pursue continuing education and become certified in their area of interest.
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