Top US medical schools are opening up around the world. Harvard University has a large medical campus in Dubai, Cornell University opened its first in Qatar, and Duke University is forming the first graduate medical school in Singapore.

Increased competition for National Institutes of Health funding and tougher US visa regulations are not necessarily causing this trend. What lies beneath is the chance to attract overseas patients, develop an international brand, embrace a wider range of students and experts around the world, advance research/education missions, and realise financial benefits.

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Acting president and CEO of Harvard Medical International (HMI), Dr Andrew A Jeon, says that governments, investors and institutions abroad are also eager to partner with healthcare leaders to help them build, develop and improve healthcare, education and research infrastructure in their regions. That is the reason behind the creation of HMI.

The Dubai government approached the school when it was developing a strategy for building the emirate’s healthcare and education infrastructure. Harvard has been collaborating with Dubai since 2003. It has helped with regulatory planning associated with Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC) by creating an infrastructure through which the latter can license providers to co-locate in DHCC and ensure that those providers pursue continuous quality improvement.

Harvard established the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center (HMSDC) and participates in developing its programmes and infrastructure. It provided technical input for the design and development of a tertiary care centre to be located in DHCC, and created the Dubai Harvard Foundation for Medical Research, which is designed to support biomedical research involving scientists in the Gulf region in collaborations with centres at Harvard Medical School.

Risks and benefits

Going offshore can be risky. When Johns Hopkins University partnered with Singapore on an international medical clinic in the city state in 1998, the goal was to expand its presence in Asia. Eight years later, the joint venture was dismantled, citing unrealistic expectations and lack of commitment on both sides.

Dr Jeon advises US institutions to look out for the pitfalls that hinder business relationships: misaligned understanding of the partnership’s objectives, lack of compatibility between systems and practices, and miscommunication. “In the international arena, the fundamentals of good business relationships are critical,” he says.

Today, Harvard is engaged in the development of the HMSDC Institute for Postgraduate Education & Research. “HMSDC is the infrastructure through which we help to provide postgraduate and continuing medical education programmes and professional development,” says Dr Jeon.

For Harvard, the benefits are diverse. Revenues generated are being used to develop its operational and intellectual resources. It has also given HMI opportunities to design and test new models and solutions.

“The ‘free zone’ model that Dubai is using to develop its healthcare infrastructure is one of the dominant models of healthcare transformation today,” says Dr Jeon. “Participating in its implementation has helped to position us at the leading edge of global health as undertakings in other countries follow the Dubai example.”