My mother insisted on providing me with art tutors from an early age. Her original intention might have been simply to develop my drawing and painting skills, but I doubt that she realized the degree to which art literacy would affect other aspects of my life.
I am an epidemiologist and research scientist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. My work revolves around gathering health data from patients, hospitals and communities that are analyzed statistically through field work, studies, observations and other methods to connect the dots.
It is remarkable to look at a table containing thousands of numbers and try to decipher the relationships, associations and trends that lead us to conclusions about how diseases happen, among whom and why they occurred.
Scientists look at challenges from different perspectives, which is why design thinking can be a useful tool. In my case, those years of art lessons have come in handy. Many studies have shown that art education enhances math and science skills — in addition, art and science can enhance innovation.
An important area of research on which I am focused is mental health, which is a growing epidemic.
Recognizing lack of information about the burden of mental illness in Saudi Arabia, my team and I have been working on the Saudi National Mental Health Survey project, which is based at the King Salman Center for Disability Research, in collaboration with Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the World Health Organization.
We have surveyed Saudis throughout the country, allowing us to get closer to identifying the root causes of mental illnesses. Our project data is being used to drive strategic planning by the Ministry of Health for mental health services.
As parents, my husband and I considered it important to expose our children to art from an early age. I have tried to give my children things that were not available to me.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia, physical education and varsity sports were not offered. So, I enrolled them on a swim team, with which they continued to train throughout their school years. I could see them going back to it because it is now available to them.
Saudi Arabia is a changing nation; it is different from what it was during my childhood and one can only be optimistic and excited to see what the future will bring.