Meet today’s Health Sciences valedictorian

Photo by Sarah Janes.

If you could have any superpower what would it be? What is your definition of success? Meet Ahmad Firas Khalid, the valedictorian at the November 21 convocation for the Faculty of Health Sciences. Read more about the student who turned down Oxford and Harvard to learn how to help people in crisis.

1. Name:
Ahmad Firas (First name), Khalid (Last name)

2. Hometown:
As a Canadian Jordanian citizen raised in the United Arab Emirates who has  lived in more than nine countries, I often get asked where is home? I always struggle to answer that question. For a long time, I considered home to be the city I was born in, the place where my parents lived. When my father suddenly passed away two years ago, it forced me to rethink how I define “home” and where I belong. Though my father is physically gone, his presence in our home in Jordan still provides a sense of belonging. This reoccurrence will one day answer the where is home? It saddens me to think the answer for some will be “home is Zaatri camp in Jordan, the world’s largest camp for Syrian refugees”.

3. What is the degree and subject you pursued?
A PhD in Health Policy focused on supporting the use of research evidence to inform decision-making in crisis zones under the supervision of Dr. John N. Lavis and committee members: Dr. Meredith Vanstone and Dr. Fadi El-Jardali.

4. What made you choose McMaster for your higher education career?
My mother played a significant role in helping me decide where to go for my PhD as I had a few other options to choose from. She believed that given Mac’s reputation as ‘the’ place to go to if you want to do ground-breaking research convinced her that I would be happy here. Overall, choosing McMaster has been one of the best decisions I ever made.

5. What will you be doing/see yourself doing after graduation?
I see myself utilizing the diverse education and experiences I gained to bring innovative changes to education, research, policy and practice. For example, using simulation-based learning as a teaching strategy, which is similar to how I have been teaching for three years at the Bachelors of Health Sciences Program, McMaster’s Health Forum Practicum (4YY3). I also would like to see novel research methods applied to solve new research questions. For example, using a critical interpretive synthesis approach that allows for a more iterative and responsive process of synthesis. As for policy and practice, I see a clear need to develop a rapid response unit equipped to provide the best available research evidence to support decision-makers in crisis zones. This rapid response unit was one of the key findings that came out of my PhD thesis work and something I firmly believe will help support decision-making in the humanitarian aid sector.

6. What would you say to your first-year self?
I would say to my first-year self to continue showing up, make the most of every opportunity, and to do the work.

7. Do you have any advice for current and future students?
My advice is simple: try and gain something out of every experience because I firmly believe that every interaction, every emotion and every conversation is one way of finding your way forward.

8. How has McMaster shaped the person you are today?
I came to McMaster thinking I knew so much only to realize that there is still so much more to learn. Mac opened my eyes to new experiences, ignited my curiosity to explore answering new research questions aimed at serving the needs of vulnerable populations and helped me be a much better version of myself than four years ago.

9. What events did you enjoy the most at McMaster/Hamilton?
The Labelle lectureship series ( is close to my heart. I served as the Health Policy PhD student representative on the committee designated with selecting a health services researcher with emerging recognition in honour of the late Roberta Labelle, one of McMaster’s Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis (CHEPA) founding members.

10. What is your definition of success?
To me success means showing up and doing the best that you can every single time. Success is being respectful and being present when interacting with others. It is appreciating that there are lessons to be learned in every single experience, but one has to be ready to accept these lessons.

11. How has McMaster helped you create a Brighter World?
McMaster’s global reputation of being a world-renowned institution and putting the needs of people at the heart of all its research endeavours provided me with the institutional support I needed to push my research further faster.

12. What motivates you to work hard?
I believe that to achieve excellence in life, you must be consistent. This is precisely what motives me to work hard. I am also cognizant to ask for help when I need to as it takes a village to be successful. Finally, my incredible friends at Mac, Kristen Burrows and Cristina Mattison, motivate and support me daily to accomplish my goals.

13. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Stop time. I can’t believe how fast time flies, which is a constant reminder to be present and to seize every opportunity.

14. Who is your favourite professor?
I am so blessed to have taken courses by so many astounding professors. To name a few: Julia Abelson, Emmanuel Guindon, Katherine Boothe, Mita Giacomini.

15. What book are you currently reading?
Brene Brown Daring Greatly and re-reading MaMa Oprah’s book The Path Made Clear. Both fantastic reads, sometimes hard to digest but overall insightful.

16. While at Mac, did you receive donor-funded financial assistance (e.g., a scholarship, award, bursary)? Any thoughts on the importance of giving back to your alma mater to support future generations?
I was fortunate to receive the Ontario Graduate Scholarship for four consecutive years and I am a two-time Queen Elizabeth Scholar, where I engaged in foreign travel to study the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the health system in Lebanon. My hope is that one day I can give back to McMaster so that future students can have an impact locally and globally.

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