(By Avigayil Kadesh)
Mais Ali Saleh on graduation day, posing beside her
student research project
The newest staff obstetrician-gynecologist at Carmel Medical Center in Haifa is hardly the only Arab-Israeli physician on staff, nor the only female. Dr. Mais Ali Saleh’s main distinction is that she was the No. 1 student in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s 2013 medical school graduating class.
“From the time I was five years old, I wanted to be a doctor,” she says. “I was never interested in anything else.”
By the time she was in 11th grade she had decided to go into OB/GYN. “Most women prefer a female doctor,” she explains in a phone interview during a few minutes stolen from her busy schedule. “With intimate problems such as urinary incontinence, they are embarrassed to go to a male doctor.”
Ali Saleh emphasizes that although people outside Israel may have the impression that Arab-Israeli students at Israel’s premier engineering and science university are rare, this is not the case.
“The Technion medical school has about 35 percent Arab-Israeli students,” she says. (In June 2013 the actual number was close to 50%, according to some sources; 22% of all medical students in Israel are Arabs) Overall, Arab students make up some 20% of the university’s student body, paralleling their numbers in the Israeli population.
Nor is it unusual for a non-Jewish Technion student or faculty member to achieve star status. Last year’s Technion valedictorian was Arza Haddad, a Christian woman from a Lebanese family who earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.
Another notable example is Prof. Hossam Haick, a chemical engineer at the Technion’s Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute and inventor of the NA-NOSE device that detects serious diseases by analyzing breath samples. A Christian Arab, he was raised in Nazareth.
Ali Saleh, 27, grew up nearby in the mixed Muslim and Christian village of Yafa an-Naseriyye (“Jaffa of Nazareth”) and at first struggled with the Technion’s Hebrew classes. Though she had learned the language at school, it took awhile for her to become fluent.
Ali Saleh could have avoided the language barrier by studying in Jordan, but she says the Israeli medical schools are of higher quality and the opportunities after graduation are superior. Earning excellent grades on the high school matriculation exams and the psychometric college entrance exams, in addition to her personal interview, put her ahead of the fierce competition.
“Those who can't meet the admission requirements are forced to study abroad,” she says. “Getting high achievements in the psychometric exam doesn't make you a better student; you need to solve many complicated questions in a very limited time, and this exam constitutes a major obstacle for both the Jewish and Arab students.”
Impressive as it is that she gained admission to the Technion’s Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and overcame her linguistic difficulties, it is even more impressive that she rose to the top so quickly. In her first year, she was chosen by the Knesset as one of eight students from around the country to receive an academic award of excellence.
She did this while juggling medical school and work. Ali Saleh was an instructor in a psychometric preparation course, an educator in the Technion’s Student Advancement Center and a research assistant in the clinical biochemistry laboratory. And she also got married while in the midst of her studies, to Technion Medical School alumnus Dr. Nidal Mawasi.
Ali Saleh credits good time management for her extraordinary achievements.
“I think the main thing is to divide time wisely between study, work and personal life,” she says. Unlike many of her fellow students, she never crammed for tests or pulled all-nighters.
“I didn’t just learn material right before the test. I was constantly reviewing. If you study little by little, you internalize it better. And I made time to have fun. At four or five o’clock I’d finish studying and close the books and go to the sea.”
Ali Saleh comes from a family and hometown that fully supported her ambitions. Her own mother got a college degree later in life and now is studying for a doctorate in education.
Now that she’s a mom (her first baby – a girl – was born in October 2013), Ali Saleh says her goal is to continue working at the hospital part time and spend the rest of her working hours in a community practice.