AAHPO’s Annual Gala Banquet to Be Held October 15 in New Jersey


By Taleen Babayan

TEANECK, N.J. — As a physician at the Ninotsminda Emergency Center, Dr. Lilit Ananikyan spends her days performing surgeries, checking in on her patients and treating the ill in this Armenian-populated district in the Javakhk region of southern Georgia. Serving in an under-staffed and under-resourced hospital, Ananikyan and her colleagues face a multitude of obstacles on a daily basis, including lack of heat during the harsh winter months, outdated ambulance cars and a scarcity of medical supplies. But perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the lack of updating one’s medical training. Many of the doctors, not only in Javakhk, but also in Nagorno Karabagh and rural Armenia, have not received additional training or courses to update their knowledge of medicine since the collapse of the Soviet Union some 20 years ago.

Through the support of the Armenian American Health Professional Organization’s (AAHPO) partnership with the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), Ananikyan and other doctors in Javakhk and Nagorno Karabagh are overturning this trend by having the opportunity to participate in AAHPO’s Continuing Medical Education program.

“I could not believe such a humanitarian project could exist,” said Ananikyan, manager of the medical ambulatory department at the Ninotsminda Emergency Center. “It was a great opportunity to deepen my professional knowledge.”

The positive impact the Continuing Medical Education program has had on healthcare delivery in Armenia led to AAHPO dedicating its upcoming annual gala banquet to raise money to expand the program to Javakhk and Nagorno-Karabagh.

The theme of this year’s banquet is “Help Save Lives! Support the Continuing Medical Education of Doctors in Armenia.” It will take place on Saturday, October 15, at the Marriott at Glenpointe. The evening will also serve as an opportunity to honor Dr. Richard Babayan, Annette Choolfaian, RN, MPA, and Dr. Haikaz Grigorian for their various achievements and contributions in the medical field. The fall of the Soviet Union dealt a blow to the healthcare system in Armenia, and since the founding of the Armenian republic, no government regulations requiring doctors to keep their medical knowledge up-to-date have been implemented.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

“In the Armenian-populated regions of Nagorno Karabagh and Javakhk, there are no mechanisms or funding for updating doctors’ medical skills,” said Dr. Aram Cazazian, a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “Ninety percent of the doctors have not received further medical education in the past 15 years.”

The Continuing Medical Education program currently supports 30 physicians a year, yet hundreds are waiting to participate. “Medicine is progressive,” said Dr. Raffy Hovanessian, a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “This continuing medical education program is vital because it is of utmost importance to update the quality of healthcare in Armenia, Javakhk and Nagorno Karabagh.”

The money AAHPO raises for the CME month-long program in Yerevan covers tuition expenses, lodging and a stipend for doctors who are taking time off from their work. Over the course of four weeks, the physicians participate in intensive programs in their specialty in leading medical centers as well as universities and advanced clinics in Yerevan. They learn modern medical skills, such as Cesarean-section techniques and the acute treatment of heart attacks, that will have immediate impact when they return to their home villages.

“Continuing medical education is a requirement that we take for granted here in the US,” said Dr. Tsoline Kojaoghlanian, also a member of AAHPO’s Board of Directors. “It is even more crucial to introduce and maintain it in areas of most need.”

Aside from enhancing their medical skills, participating doctors also have the opportunity to network, take computer literacy courses and partake in teleconferences. At the conclusion of the program, participants will have completed an independent research project and received a certificate of completion signed by the Ministry of Health.

“This program provided me with a significant amount of information about medicine and new technologies,” said Dr. Irina Khachatryan who works in the Stepanakert Children’s Hospital. “It inspired me to continue to improve our health service quality.”

Members of AAHPO themselves have firsthand experience of seeing the improvement this program has brought to physicians. Dr. Larry Najarian, president of AAHPO, traveled to Armenia during the AAHPO medical mission this past summer where he had the opportunity to meet the graduates of the Continuing Medical Education program.

“It was a very moving, humbling experience,” said Najarian. “Seeing and understanding the circumstances in which they work was sobering and inspires us to help. CME is a ray of hope that provides knowledge and saves lives.”

AAHPO is in its 17th year serving the Armenian-American community.

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: