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Prospective Medical Student’s Reflection

Medical Observership at AECP by Ms. Courtney Heisler, BSc

During my medical observership in Armenia, many people asked me, "What is a Canadian premed doing here in Armenia?" My response was quite simple and was always along the same lines: I want to be an ophthalmologist and my passion for learning more about the field cannot wait until third year medical electives. The follow up question would then be, "Well...why Armenia?" This would cause some hesitation on my part as I could not think of a reason why not Armenia (that is, other than the fact when you step into a taxi or marshrutka you feel as though you have stepped onto the set of 'Fast and Furious').


The first two weeks of my medical observership were spent under the care of Dr. Ruzanna Harutyunyan, Pediatric Ophthalmologist and Chief of the Malayan Ophthalmologic Center Pediatric Clinic. I knew on my first day that I could not have been placed with a better surgeon to begin my time here. The first morning, I was prepped and entered the OR, standing at her side for strabismus correction on a 10 year old boy. It was this moment that I knew without a doubt that this is what I wanted to do. During my time with the pediatric department, I had the opportunity to visit the NICU and see many interesting cases, including but certainly not limited to: retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), strabismus (clinical diagnosis and surgical correction), dilation of nasolacrimal ducts, congenital cataracts, secondary glaucoma, and trauma.


I easily fell into the daily routine of sitting with the pediatric staff over a cup of delicious Armenia coffee I have come to love so much while discussing patient cases for the day, heading to the OR in the morning, followed by an afternoon in the clinic. There were some days where we saw upwards of 50 patients, yet Dr. Harutyunyan's dedication of ensuring her patients received top care and attention never wavered. Not only did I learn a great deal about ophthalmology during my time with her, but she also provided a clear embodiment of the doctor I would like to become: compassionate, caring, patient, and has a fantastic sense of humor.


My final two weeks were with Dr. Anna Hovakimyan, Chief of the Corneal-Uveitis Clinic, and what a strong finish to an amazing experience at S.V. Malayan's Ophthalmologic Center. With Dr. Hovakimyan, I had the opportunity to see many fascinating cases. Patients came to the clinic for corneal transplants (pre- and post-op), scleritis, trauma (chemical or other), herpetic ulcers, glaucoma, cataracts, and much more. Opportunities to stand next to Dr. Hovakimyan as she performed cataract removal and artificial lens injections, watching through the surgical microscope were one of the many highlights during my time on her department.


Some days after finishing at the hospital, I would go to the AECP offices to edit educational documents and patient stories. It was here that I was truly able to grasp the extent this organization has helped and continues to help the people of Armenia.


To all those who went out of their way to make my time in Yerevan and the surrounding regions a trip to remember, I am most grateful and hope I will someday have the opportunity to return the favor.


I will miss you all very much.


Special thank you to Dr. Alexander Malayan, Dr. Ruzanna Harutyunyan, Dr. Anna Hovakimyan, Nune Yeghiazaryan, Minas Hambardzumyan, and Marina Aghavelyan.



Our mission is eliminating
preventable blindness and
making eye care accessible to
all people in Armenia.

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