UAB biology student Berkebile named a Clinton Scholar

Leah Berkebile named Clinton Scholar; UAB sophomore with plans to practice medicine in the Middle East is designing an Arabic studies minor.

Leah Berkebile, a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), has been awarded a William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship, which provides American students based in the United States the opportunity to expand their educational and cultural horizons by studying in the Arab world.


Berkebile, an Experiential Learning Scholars Program student from Athens, Ala., will study Middle East history, culture and economics for one semester at American University in Dubai. Berkebile says the prestigious honor is a monumental step in her goal to practice medicine in the Middle East.

“You can’t function in a society if you don’t know anything about their environment – it is not something you can pretend to know,” said Berkebile, a biology and international studies double major. “Doctors need to be able to understand people’s needs both medically and culturally to provide the best care possible.”

Berkebile has been interested in different cultures for as long as she can remember, and she has been thrilled with UAB’s student diversity. After only one year of studying Arabic as her foreign language, she is designing an Arabic studies minor.

“After spending so much time with people from the Middle East, it hurts me to see how they are portrayed in multimedia and misperceived by the West,” said Berkebile. “Ignorance is directly related to prejudice, and the key to defeating both is education. I want to be a liaison who can help educate people on both sides.”

“Doctors need to be able to understand people’s needs both medically and culturally to provide the best care possible.”

Nobody in Berkebile’s family has ever travelled outside of the United States, but the 19-year-old has no trepidation. She has researched the school, the city and past Clinton Scholars like UAB’s Jacob Ledbetter, who studied in Dubai in 2012. He told her the best experiences come outside of the academic setting.

“We discussed many different ways to take advantage of a rare opportunity to live and learn in the Middle East, so I plan to shadow doctors and volunteer at hospitals,” said Berkebile. “I need to immerse myself in their world and learn Arabic medical terminology, and that is what I intend to do while I am in Dubai.”

Berkebile plans to go to medical school via the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program. The U.S. Army will pay for her medical school and provide a $2,000 stipend each month. In exchange for her education, Berkebile will serve in the Army for four years upon graduation. She says she will request tours of duty in the Middle East.

Berkebile leaves for Dubai on May 8, 2013.