Omar Al-Janabi, MBChB, PhD, MS, initially arrived in Lexington, Ky., for a master’s program and an affordable place to live with his family. Nearly a decade later, he has completed not one but three graduate training programs at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. He also has engaged with mentors who will have a lasting impact on his career in medicine and research.
Dr. Al-Janabi immediately connected to the UK College of Medicine’s mission for a healthier Kentucky and its commitment to addressing urgent health care needs. Growing up in rural Iraq, he understood the burden of limited health care access. He suffered from severe asthma as a child and needed treatment at a moment’s notice, yet the closest hospitals were sometimes many miles away. This is a need also impacting patients in the Commonwealth.
Because of his experiences, Dr. Al-Janabi has been dedicated to being part of the change.
“From an early age, I wanted to help,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘If I could become a doctor, would I be able to help someone in my situation in the future?’”
He earned his Master of Science in Medical Sciences (MSMS) and PhD in clinical and translational sciences at the UK College of Medicine. At the end of June, he will complete his adult neurology residency training at UK College of Medicine.
Before coming to the U.S., he finished a competitive medical degree program at Tikrit University College of Medicine in 2009. He also pursued residency training in the neurology department at Tikrit Teaching Hospital.
With his well-rounded educational background, Dr. Al-Janabi’s goal is to care for patients in underserved areas, with a particular focus on the need for clinical researchers and neurological expertise.
“I’m a physician at heart, so I like patient care,” he said. “But at the same time, I wanted to do something to help our patients at a population level.”
UK’s programs (MSMS and PhD in CTS) exposed Dr. Al-Janabi to translational science. He learned how to bring solutions from the research bench to the patient bedside when he joined the lab of Gregory Jicha, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and faculty in the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. Their collaborative work focused on analyzing brain imaging. He helped determine biomarkers and separate samples for the most common types of dementia, like vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, helping improve the care provided for dementia patients.
Dr. Al-Janabi went on to rank UK's adult neurology residency program as his top choice for residency applications. “And I was lucky to get here,” he said. "UK's adult neurology residency program is a great place to train at with a very welcoming and diverse environment. Working with UK neurology residents and faculty gives you the sense of getting trained with a family.”
From his research experience, he knew Kentucky had a unique population in terms of lifestyle, environmental risks, and access to health care. Staying at UK would provide him opportunities to care for complex patient populations.
Among those complex cases are strokes, multiple sclerosis, dementia, and other neurological diseases. Dr. Al-Janabi witnessed the need for neurologists when he went through clinical rotations in medical school. As a neurologist, he hopes to help fill that need and inspire future medical students to pursue this field of study.
Larry Goldstein, MD, associate dean for clinical research and Ruth L. Works Professor and Chair of Neurology, said that as the field evolves, his department focuses on critical thinking and hands-on structured experience completing quality improvement and research projects.
“Training to become a neurologist can be very challenging. We strive to create and maintain a supportive, welcoming environment that appropriately balances and integrates educational and patient care activities with innovative programs and approaches,” Dr. Goldstein said.
Dr. Al-Janabi credits his success to great mentors at UK, such as Dr. Jicha, Dr. Goldstein, and other notable mentors, including Peter Nelson, MD, PhD, Donna Wilcock, PhD, and Brian Gold, PhD, who helped him run clinical trials and publish research.
Through the UK neurology residency program, Dr. Al-Janabi trained in comprehensive centers for stroke, dementia and aging, epilepsy, neuromuscular disorders, multiple sclerosis, and movement disorders. He gained a broad range of experience in treating complex neurological conditions.
Dr. Al-Janabi lives in Lexington with his wife, a UK pharmacist, and their three children. This summer, he will head to the University of Arizona for a vascular neurology fellowship to diversify his clinical experience in stroke, as recommended by his mentors. When he finishes the fellowship, however, he will return to the Commonwealth to serve Kentuckians.
“I love this place,” Dr. Al-Janabi said. “I love the people I interacted with, and I love the opportunities that are available here.”