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Armenian Medical Education Innovator Is Fulbright Scholar

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  • Armenian Medical Education Innovator Is Fulbright Scholar

    Armenian Medical Education Innovator Is Fulbright Scholar

    ARMENIA, COMMUNITY | JUNE 25, 2013 4:16 PM

    By Alin K. Gregorian

    Mirror-Spectator Staff

    BOSTON - One can call Gevorg Yaghjyan many things: physician, plastic
    surgeon, associate professor, patriot, pioneer and activist. One can
    also call him a Fulbright Scholar at Boston University School of
    Medicine since January.

    His resume covers four solid pages, with little fat to trim. It
    overflows with activities both professional and volunteer.

    Yaghjyan, born and raised in Yerevan and still a resident of that
    city, is not only a doctor of medicine, but he also holds a PhD in

    Speaking to Yaghjyan can be difficult at times, since his brain seems
    to be working at speeds higher than those of mere mortals.

    He has received every honor from teaching awards at Yerevan State
    University Medical School to the Drastamat Kanaian Gold Medal from the
    Ministry of Defense of Armenia.

    Yaghjyan's specialty is plastic surgery, reconstructive microsurgery
    to be exact, and in fact, one of his projects, along with other
    faculty members dating back to 1997, is founding the program to teach
    medical students the specialty of plastic surgery. His work often
    deals with reconstruction after injuries, work he perfected after his
    many years helping mine victims as well as civilian and military
    victims of Azeri fire. He also works to help cancer patients after
    large tumors are removed. `If an oncologist removes the tumor,' he
    said, they often take out more than the tumor itself, often leaving a
    negative space that would need to be filled. What Yaghjyan does is to
    `bring in tissue, muscle, tendon and bone and make it vascularized,'
    so that it would function and look as the normal body part.

    During the war, he said, he `was a resident in the plastic surgery
    department, the only resident.' As a result, he said, `I traveled a
    lot to Karabagh to do operations at the Stepanakert Hospital,' in
    addition to many surgeries in Shushi. The latter hospital, lagging in
    terms of construction, became one of the projects for the Land and
    Culture Organization.

    Yaghjyan this past spring taught a course at Yale Medical School,
    where he presented the cases on which he had worked. Yale, lofty a
    perch as it might seem, is not a new experience for Yaghjyan, who
    spent six months there in 2001 as a visiting scholar, making the
    acquaintance of the head of the plastic surgery department at the
    medical school, Dr. John Persing, the current chairman, and the former
    chairman, Dr. Stephan Ariyan. The Yale surgeons' work in Armenia dates
    back to the period immediately after the devastating 1988 earthquake.
    They did their work, in conjunction with help from the AGBU and the US
    Agency for International Development.

    In 1997, a group of Plastic Surgeons from the Mikaelyan Surgical
    Institute, under the Supervision of Dr. Artvazad Sahakyan, moved from
    the Mikaelyan Institute to Yerevan State Medical University, where the
    curriculum was created through the Ministry of Health. Yaghjyan said
    that his training at Yale helped him organize the plastic surgery
    residency program with other colleagues. In fact, Yaghjyan said,
    through a team effort, Armenia became the first post-Soviet country to
    have registered a separate plastic surgery specialty.

    `The former rector [2006-2011] Prof. Gohar Kyalyan was instrumental in
    reforming graduate medical education and she invited me in 2007 to be
    the vice dean [rector] for the medical school,' in charge of graduate
    and postgraduate medical education based on the work which was done
    for plastic surgery residency program, he said.

    `She was my anatomy professor at the medical school and knows my
    career development and achievement very well,' he added.

    `In 2007, Dr. Gohar Kyalyan and I were invited by Dr. Aram Chobanian
    to come here and see new trends in medicine. We were invited to meet
    the dean of the Boston University School of Medicine,' he said, Dr.
    Karen Antman,

    The collaboration between Antman and Kyalyan proved to be fruitful.
    `We worked with BU to reform medical education and signed a new
    cooperation agreement with the BU faculty,' which agreed to come to
    Armenia to help to in curriculum reform on the undergraduate and
    graduate levels.

    Yaghjyan has the distinction of being picked as a Fulbright Scholar
    not once, but twice. The first time, he explained, was in 2007, but he
    was not able to come to the US because he was `in the middle of the

    `I wrote a letter and said that I could not come,' and asked to be
    reconsidered if the chance arose. He reapplied in 2011 and was
    accepted the following year and started at Boston University School of

    In 2011, Yaghjyan joined the National Competitiveness Foundation of
    Armenia (NCFA) medical team, for which he became medical programs
    director in 2012.

    The National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia is a public-private
    entity established in 2008 through a partnership between the
    Government of Armenia and a group of global business leaders of
    Armenian descent. Boston-area Armenian Afeyan and Raffi Festekjian are
    members of the Board of Trustees. The board functions under the aegis
    of the office of the prime minister.

    Cancer Complex Being Built

    During his stay in the US, Yaghjyan is also focusing on the
    organization of nuclear medicine education and management of cancer
    hospitals. He visited leading cancer hospitals in the US, including MD
    Anderson in Texas, Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the Yale
    Cancer Center and the Cleveland Clinic.

    The vision of the NCFA is to have a cyclotron bunker, a diagnostic
    center to run isotopes for imaging cancer, with work complete by 2013.

    The project in Armenia is a `cancer city,' in effect, to be run by the
    NCFA and the government of Armenia. If the center is finished as
    envisioned, it would not only be a world-class center to provide
    first-rate care for patients in Armenia, but it would attract patients
    from far and wide.

    Yaghjyan said that there are only three cyclotrons in Moscow and some
    additional few in all of Russia and none in the countries neighboring
    Armenia, including Georgia and Iran.

    Yaghjyan said that he has also been involved with the HYEBRIDGE
    telemedicine project that Armenia Fund USA is leading and hopefully
    after his new connections with Boston University and Boston Armenian
    Medical Association, the Boston doctors will be more involved in this

    In between his incredibly hectic professional schedule, he finds time
    to head the Land and Culture branch in Armenia.

    Land and Culture

    Yaghjyan recalled that his work with the Land and Culture Organization
    started soon after the group came to Armenia in the wake of the 1988
    earthquake that had destroyed much of the north of the country.

    `I started while I was in medical school. I was sent to them to be
    helpful and I started to volunteer with them in 1991. In 1992, he
    became the organization's president in Armenia.

    The group has worked on the school in the Karabagh town of Karintak,
    as well as rebuilding the church in Gogaran in Armenia, renovating
    Tatev and the Shushi Hospital, which is now complete.

    Yaghjyan has made lasting friendships through the years, ones that
    have enriched not only his personal life but also Armenia's medical
    future. One such connection was with Dr. Rafi Avitsian, head of the
    Neurosurgical Anesthesiology Section at the world-famous Cleveland
    Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. He got an invitation in 2003 to visit the
    hospital as part of an observership program. The program had no money
    and little capability for helping visiting doctors, but through
    Avitsian, the program has grown. He makes regular trips to Armenia to
    teach, in addition to being `the ambassador for this program at
    Cleveland Clinic.' Since 2005, he has hosted students in his house.
    The program is free for all students from Armenia

    During his incredibly rich medical career, Yaghjyan has worked from
    the bottom to the top. It was what he saw in his duties as an
    intensive care nurse in post-quake Armenia and wartime Karabagh that
    he decided to pursue his medical course relentlessly.

    `I saw a lot of people during the Karabagh war and the earthquake. I
    decided it was good for me to do something new and take something
    very, very new, go on a long and difficult journey. In 2007 the
    continuing medical education and graduate medical education was in
    the process of developing and I was happy to use my knowledge and
    experience in that area. I am happy to be at the front lines, be they
    medical, educational, clinical or innovational.'

    Yaghjyan will return to Armenia in September.

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