Health education in schools could lead students to pursue careers in nursing and other allied healthcare courses in future, said a health education expert. May Ghulmiyyah, Manager of Health Education Programmes at the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), said that through health education and familiarity with the healthcare system, the students will be “more receptive to the idea of being involved in their career. “Women will be encouraged to get into nursing through health context, and through association with different subjects they can relate to careers in health,” she told Khaleej Times. She was speaking on the sidelines of the first International Nursing Conference hosted by Fatima College of Health Sciences on Wednesday. The two-day conference will conclude today. According to Dr Fatima Al Rifai, Director of Nursing at the Ministry of Health, out of around 23,000 nurses in the UAE, only three per cent are UAE nationals. Drawing on the success of the IAT’s Health Education and Care for Medical Applications (HECMA) programme, Ghulmiyyah related how HECMA, which was introduced two years ago to select eight government schools for girls and IAT high schools (Grades 10 -12) in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, are encouraging the youth to get into the sector. The nine-subject programme, which is delivered over a three-year period covers comprehensive health education subjects including physical, mental and social well-being, nutrition, young women’s health, safety and first aid training. The HECMA programme is the only one of its kind in the UAE. IAT hopes to introduce the programme to all grades and public schools in the emirate in future. Included in the school curricula, HECMA educates adolescents to become healthy and productive adults. At the same time, introducing them to various health careers including nursing, nutrition, pharmacy and physician through various activities and projects. Asked about the HECMA students’ perception of the nursing profession, Ghulmiyyah said: “Actually there’s more openness especially when they know that there are Emirati role models getting into the field. They’re thinking it’s a good career, being pioneers in this respect.” At the conference titled ‘Nursing Education and Practice: Providing Excellent Health Care’, speakers at the opening day’s panel session spoke about the importance of family support, as well as, the specialisation of the nursing profession to master’s and doctoral level in order to prepare the nursing faculty of the future. Dr Abdullatif Al Shamsi, Director-General of IAT, said that IAT is currently looking at partnering with an institution to launch the master’s degree programme for nursing at the Fatima College, which operates under IAT. Thirty experts from 10 countries hosted workshops for the nurses over the two-day conference period.