Faculty Spotlight: Amal Abu Nijmeh-Fakhouri

Ms. Amal ِAbu Nihmeh-Fakhouri, Lecturer in the Nursing and Health Sciences Faculty at Bethlehem University, was born in Bethlehem, where she attended Bethlehem School for Girls and completed her high school education at the Bethlehem Secondary School for Girls. Her family hoped that Amal would become a school teacher, but Amal always wanted to specialize in any field related to biology and human care professions.

She recalls how in her teenage years she used to, as the oldest child in the family, help her late father at his restaurant. Her job was to clean and prepare animal internal organs; due to her passion for biology, this work experience presented her with a valuable opportunity to examine these organs closely. After graduating high school, Amal applied to study biology in Jordan; she wanted to become a lab technician. However, her family insisted that she study nursing at Bethlehem University due to its geographical proximity.

At Bethlehem University, Amal adapted quickly to the high academic standards of the Nursing Faculty and distinguished herself as a hard-working and ambitious student. She was intent on receiving all the training she could get to fulfill her dream of becoming a highly-qualified and experienced senior nurse.

Ms. Amal fondly remembers, and is grateful to, one of her teachers in the Nursing Faculty, Ms. Stana Saca. Ms. Stana encouraged and supported Amal during her undergraduate studies years at the university and played a big role in the final choice she made about her career. Ms. Stana always asked Amal to help in supervising and teaching the students during their clinical practice in the pediatric and neonatal unit. Ms. Stana would also be instrumental in the future in recruiting Ms. Amal for a teaching a position at Bethlehem University.

After her graduation from Bethlehem University in 1986, Ms. Amal applied for a job at Al-Makassed Islamic Charitable Society Hospital in Jerusalem. She was appointed as a staff Nurse in the Pediatric ward andin a relatively short time, Ms. Amal rose in the ranks to become a senior Nurse in theNeonatal Intensive Care Unit at Al-Makassed which was established in that year. Ms. Amal is proud to be a member of the founding team of the first neonatal intensive Care Unit in Palestine.

At Al-Makassed Ms. Amal continued working on developing herself professionally, by acquiring the knowledge and skills that would help her to improve the care she was providing to the patients. She thus enrolled in several courses offered by Al-Makassed, including the administration and management ofnursing wards and courses on intensive neonatal nursing care. In 1992 Ms. Amal’s supervisor at the Makassed Hospital encouraged her to obtain a Diploma in Clinical Supervision (DCS), which was offered at Bethlehem University.

That year the political situation deteriorated in Palestine and Ms. Amal had to think about her two daughters. So when she was approached about applying for a teaching position in the Faculty of Nursing and Health Sciencesat Bethlehem University, Ms. Amal accepted the offer. Although she taught the usual full load, Ms. Amal was relentless about receiving more training in the field. She enrolled in several professional diploma programs and courses related to teaching and learning methodologies, pediatric and neonatal nursing care, capacity building, nursing administration and management.

In 1996, Ms. Dian Ibrahim, the Dean of Nursing at that time, encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree in Nursing and she applied for a Master’s Degree in Maternal-Child Health Nursing (MCH) at al Quds University.Ms. Amal says that graduate school was very challenging and exciting. During those years, she had to negotiate not only the pressures of graduate studies, but also the demands of a full-time teaching load and motherhood (she had three daughters at the time and she was also expecting at the time). Despite all the obstacles she faced in pursuing her goals, she was determined to perform all her duties as perfectly as she could and serve as a role model to her students and daughters.

Although some friends advised her against choosing the thesis track in her master’s program, Ms. Amal decide to work on a master’s thesis and gain experience in research in the field. She was even more determined to pursue the thesis track, when she realized the dearth of research coming out of Palestine in this field.She soon discovered the importance of conducting research at both the personal and professional levels.

 Ms. Amal says conducting research is very demanding, but it is a very rewarding and gratifying experience. What she ultimately finds beautiful about the research process is its self-generating nature and potential continuity especially, the way researchers can link projects they are working on to other future projects they did not even have a chance to consider before. Ms. Amal says: “For me I feel it is an endless process—once you finish one research project, you find yourself thinking about developing the next project.”

 When she served as Dean for the Faculty of Nursing and Health Sciences and coordinator of the High Diploma in Neonatal Nursing program at Bethlehem University, Ms. Amal highlighted the importance of research for Palestinian health practitioners, care providers, and students in the field.In the field of Nursing and Health Sciences, in particular, the research that the Palestinian research community produces can have tremendous implications on the quality of people’s life and it really affects matters of life and death. She notes that it is important to investigate health-related problems scientifically and propose recommendations and solutions that can improve the quality of people’s life in Palestine. This is, Ms. Amal notes, at the core of the mission of Bethlehem University.

 This is the message that she tries to convey through her service on the Research Council. With the very limited number of Palestinianresearchers in the field, Palestinian research communities should receive the proper training and skills to become leading researchers who can serve their communities more effectively. Ms. Amal also notes that over the last few years, Bethlehem University has made special effort to support a culture of excellence in research. She states that there are different opportunities for the Bethlehem University faculty and staff to develop their research profiles, including the Internal Research Grants, the research skills development workshops, and the various colloquia. Moreover, she notes that including research in promotion decisions will have a positive impact on the development of research at Bethlehem University.

 At the personal level, Ms. Amal also believes that developing research in collaboration with colleagues in the Nursing and Health Sciences Faculty has provided her with an important incentive to invest more time and effort in research. Since full-time teaching loads usually leave faculty with little time for research, collaborative research can help faculty become engaged researchers. Ms. Amal and her colleagues believe in the advantages of collaborative research and are willing to meet over the weekend in order to work on their research.

 She has thus worked with colleagues on linking research, teaching and learning especially, with regard to developing Nursing students’ skills and improving the quality of their educationin the class-room or in the clinical settings. In one project, for which they received IRG funding, Ms. Amal and her colleagues are examining the impact of peer evaluation in group work among nursing students at Bethlehem University. In another, they have focused their research project on the effectiveness of different teaching methods on the students’ self-learning, critical and analytical thinking, decision making and leadership abilities as well as their academic achievements.She is confident that she and her colleagues will be able to build on this research to develop other research projects in the future.

Involvement in these research projects has shaped Ms. Amal teaching practices and philosophy. She has modified and adapted her teaching strategies in light of the results of her research projects and feedback from the students. For example, she is asking students to domore case analyses, concept mapping, class room presentations, role play, and other activities that require group work. She has also asked them to do more self-evaluation, peer-evaluation, debriefing and reflection which will help them in the future to perform their roles as a senior and head nurses.

Ms. Amal hope that her faith in the value of collaborative work for developing research at Bethlehem University and in Palestine prompt others to follow a similar path. Despite the various obstacles Palestinian research communities face in conducting and disseminating their research at the social, institutional, and political levels, Ms. Amal believes that we owe it to our future generations to invest more in research and help provide workable answers to the perennial problems that our society faces.Prepared and edited byDr. Jamil Khader April 21, 2017