Abu Dhabi: When Shatha Al Wahhabi chose to pursue biomedical engineering, she didn’t dream that it would take her to a world-renowned hospital for a summer of discovery.

The 19-year-old Emirati was therefore delighted to find herself selected to be one among five Abu Dhabi students headed to the Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in Washington.

“As a student of biomedical engineering, it is often difficult to get a full understanding of the hospitals you develop tools and technologies for. This was the most enlightening part of the two-month trip,” Shatha told Gulf News on her return to the UAE.

The programme she participated in, titled the Student Innovators Programme, is funded by the Abu Dhabi Government as part of its initiatives for the Shaikh Zayed Institute of Paediatric Surgical Innovation.

The Institute, which was set up with a $150 million (Dh550.9 billion) Abu Dhabi Government donation in 2009, is housed at the CNMC and was created as a global model for healt hcare innovation in paediatrics.

All of the UAE pupils who participated this year were biomedical engineering students enrolled at Khalifa University. They joined 23 other university students from around the world to develop innovation skills applied within paediatric medicine. They also had a chance to peek into current research in the fields of bioengineering, medicine and sciences, among others.

“I was able to undertake DNA extraction and work on laboratory projects that required extreme precision. And, most importantly, I had the chance to observe a laparoscopic surgery on an 11-month-old patient, which is very rare for non-medical students in the UAE,” Shatha said.

The third-year student also said that her exposure to the field of genetics had been eye-opening.

“One of the projects I worked on involved extracting blood and defining the suspected genetic components in patients suffering from a particular disease. This was fascinating, and I think that more should be done to bring such technologies to the UAE in the future,” she added.

Along with Shatha were Emirati student Eman Hammoudi, Pakistani student Zainab Moazzam, Sudanese student Emas Othman and Iraqi student Nouf Al Wahab. The programme allowed each student to focus on their specific interests, in addition to group activities.

For Othman, a 21-year-old fourth-year student, the most interesting part was being able to accompany doctors on rounds.

“I was able to shadow physicians while they spoke to patients and parents in the neurology ward. And seeing first-hand how people value doctor’s contributions has made me want to pursue medicine after my bachelor’s degree,” Othman said.