Dr Yasmin Altwaijri
Dr Yasmin Altwaijri is not your run-of-the-mill scientist. As the Senior Scientist and Head of Epidemiology Research at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, she’s tackling Saudi Arabia’s most important health and wellbeing issues. The Saudi mainly focuses on determining the prevalence of risk factors for chronic diseases such as obesity, smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, hypertension and high blood cholesterol within the Saudi population in general and among children and adolescents. With the kingdom being one of the world’s largest social media and electronic device users, she has also examined technology’s impact on mental health within Saudi society. She has also been involved as the Principal Investigator of the Saudi National Mental Health Survey.
The dedicated scientist, who was honoured on the list of the BBC’s influential “100 Women” in 2014, is also the chair of the Saudi Women in Science Committee, a network that brings women together to connect, share professional practices and act as mentors for younger students interested in science.
Altwaijri has been a vocal advocate for initiatives aiming to create an environment that supports healthy lifestyles for the community in order to tackle the growing obesity epidemic. She has also studied nutrition and physical activity recommendations that will be culturally acceptable in her country. She believes there is a need to change the approach for preventing obesity. “The burden to overturn this growing epidemic is carried by the health sector alone. However, the solution is multisectoral and interdisciplinary,” she said in interview with “Arab News.” Altwaijri also has an interest in developing initiatives for sustainable socioeconomic development, particularly in science and technology. She believes the fields of science and technology go well with the nature of Saudi customs and social norms for women.
While she was studying for her bachelor’s degree in Public Health, Altwaijri became interested in epidemiology, which looks into the causes and effects of diseases in a certain country. And after moving to the US with her husband, her doctoral programme, which had a strong emphasis on molecular biology, saw Altwaijri take her first graduate Epidemiology course. She found her calling and enjoyed it so much, she decided to complete her doctoral research in Epidemiology. She received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Tufts University in 1996 and 2002. That same year the couple moved back to Saudi Arabia, where Altwaijri found a job at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences and was was in charge of reviewing all the medical courses the university offered. However, a couple of years later, she moved to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center to head the epidemiology research centre there.
After a long day at work, Altwaijri enjoys spending time with her children, who provide a welcoming refuge. But she has admitted nothing is easy and juggling things can be very hectic.
“At work I know it is impossible to have it all, do it all and keep everything in balance. Due to this, there are certain career opportunities that I have not taken up,” she told the Kingdom’s English language daily.
Altwaijri also told “Arab News” that having an “understanding and supportive husband was essential and integral” to her success. Plus, she is thankful to her “very supportive parents” who placed a heavy emphasis on education and had high expectations. “So, growing up, I felt I had no barriers to my aspirations,” she said.