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20-year-old Palestinian girl youngest medical graduate from Cornell varsity
Monday August 19, 2013 8:11 PM, News Network

Palestinian Iqbal Al Assaad, a prodigy as a child, is now the youngest ever medical graduate from Cornell University's Qatar branch at the age of 20. She could also possibly be the youngest Arab doctor ever.

Assaad, who grew up in Lebanon, learnt to drive by the age of 13 and soon caught the eye of the country's education minister who helped secure her a scholarship to study medicine, reported UAE based The National on Sunday.

"Since day one, Iqbal stood out as a very mature and professional student despite her age and experience," says one of her professors at the Cornell branch in Qatar, Dr. Imad Makki.

The prodigy grew up in Bar Elias, a small village in the Bekaa valley, after her parents arrived in Lebanon.

According to The National she visited relatives in Palestinian refugee camps and was struck from a young age by the poverty she witnessed.

Although UNRWA provides basic medical care facilities, it cannot pay for more advanced medical cases, meaning refugees often "face a choice between forgoing essential medical treatment and falling deeply into debt," as the organization's website explains.

"It was seeing that refugees don't have any type of medical insurance," Iqbal says. "Only if this person has money and can afford things at the hospital, then he can get the medical care he needs."

Iqbal aims to return to her home to pursue a career as a doctor, "I want to come back the Middle East between Qatar and Lebanon," she says.

Medicine is among several dozen professions from which Palestinian refugees are still effectively barred.

Assaad will now go to the United States for a residency in pediatrics at the Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the top residencies for her specialty.

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