23 December 2020

Hala Khalawi: From AQB To Clinical Neuropsychiatry at King’s College London

By Hala Khalawi
 
I started my career trajectory by pursuing my undergraduate studies in Biology at Al-Quds Bard College in 2013. My aim was to understand the biological underpinnings of health and disease. Through my studies, I began to understand and explore the complexity of the human body and its interaction with the surrounding environment. My interest in the most complex organ of the human body, the brain, was first launched when I took a neuroscience course during my semester abroad at Bard College, New York.
 
Right after I returned, I joined the highly selective Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative (PNI) as an undergraduate research assistant. I explored undergraduate women’s cognitive performance during the menstrual period. My curiosity peaked when I realized that the squishy pink organ that is called the brain is only a physical home for the manifestations of thoughts, emotions, consciousness, intelligence, judgment, determination, memory, and imagination: the mind. Therefore, to explore the intersection between the brain and the mind, I applied and was offered a scholarship from the Higher Education Scholarship for Palestinians (HESPAL) to complete a unique, multidisciplinary Master of Science program in Clinical Neuropsychiatry at King’s College London.

Sure, my social media may reflect a happy masters student living a joyful life in London, but don’t let that deceive you; I struggled at the beginning and had a hard time coping with the adjustments of life abroad, like any other international student. However, I followed a calling and volunteered as a well-being promoter for students at King’s College London. Instead of focusing on my needs, I healed by serving others – through connecting and communicating.
 
During my Master's and volunteer work, I learned that the disease state does not only depend on biological or genetic entities but it is a blend of environmental, behavioral, societal, and even political factors. Consequently, I was keen to explore the determinants of health and applied to the Institute of Community and Public Health (ICPH) at Birzeit University. I am currently a part of an internationally renowned interdisciplinary research team that contributes to public health research by exploring the intersections between social, political, and economic determinants of health. I conduct research addressing distressing experiences that impact people's health and well-being using robust locally relevant evidence. My research includes: comparing experiences of deprivation and uncertainty in relation to mental health in conflict zones before and during the COVID19 pandemic; capacity building of researchers and service providers in research methods for mental health in war and conflict through online learning. In one qualitative interview I was conducting, the participant mentioned “I was never able to talk about how I feel before this, thank you for the opportunity”. Through my research, I aspire to continue to stimulate change and effectively improve health, well-being, and health systems by responding to the public’s narrative. 

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