The following interview first appeared in Armenian in the Dec. 5, 2012 issue of our Armenian-language publication, the Hairenik Weekly.
Hairenik Weekly: Dr. Dikran Kazandjian, as an oncologist (cancer specialist) who recently visited Armenia, how do you evaluate the country’s public health condition?
Dikran Kazandjian: I was born and raised in a patriotic Armenian family, received my medical education in America, and always dreamed of helping our fatherland as best I could. I remember my first trip to Armenia, which was close to 10 years ago, when I was still a medical student at Boston University. During my summer break, I spent time in Armenia and visited Artsakh [Karabagh], which, all together, provided a great moment of enlightenment. After this, I had other opportunities to visit Armenia, especially pertaining to medicine. I was even afforded the chance to work for two months in a hospital in Yerevan during medical school, which gave me some insight into the Armenian medical system. During this time I made relationships with local physicians, allowing me to further understand the field of medicine and, in general, the culture of medicine in Armenia.
Now, my evaluation is not one-sided; there are both good and bad sides that I can speak about at length. In general, there are a few professions, traditionally, that Armenians are known for (for example, jewelry, law, and of course, medicine). This means that there is huge potential for Armenians to turn into truly talented and dedicated physicians. It is important that we effectively manage our healthcare system and select and prepare the correct fields to mature, which unfortunately, I have not seen thus far.
And, unfortunately, it is not always the case that aid from the diaspora goes to the most deserving and talented physicians. A physician’s noble specialty does not equate well with the typical short-sighted “business” plan that typically infects all fields in Armenia. A physician’s profession is a God-given right, a calling to heal people by those given the talent. When non-virtuous factors intervene, truly talented physicians become disappointed with the status quo. This creates various deep moral, psychological, and financial issues. And the only solution, some will say, is to leave the fatherland. Young, gifted physicians who don’t receive the right encouragement will see emigration as the only solution. What is even more alarming is that this is becoming an issue of national security: An exodus of future talented physicians is a serious threat to public safety and the wellbeing of any country. It is fundamental to have the condition of the state healthcare system on the national agenda.
HW: Please explain the arrangement you made at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Armenian patient from Armenia.
DK: I have been working as a cancer specialist at the NIH for around four years. The NIH is comprised of many internationally renowned specialists who treat a wide and complicated variety of medical illnesses. However, the treatment modalities that the NIH has excelled in and is known for are hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation (bone marrow transplant) and immunotherapy.
During my trips to Armenia, I typically meet with my oncologist friends, and as we discuss different patients I give my advice on their care. It was during one of these sessions that I met a patient who was diagnosed with leukemia, and whose definitive curative treatment necessitated a bone marrow transplant. This patient was an active worker and had four children to take care of. Given the availability of treatments in Armenia, however, he was forced to seek care outside of the country. I offered to coordinate his treatment care and have him and his brother (his match donor) to temporarily move to Washington, D.C., to receive the needed treatment from the NIH. I began organizing the transfer and discussing his case with my NIH colleagues, thus reducing his wait time. I then decided to actively participate with the primary healthcare team responsible for his care at the NIH. I am happy that, with God’s help, he has been proceeding well and that he has many years left to serve his family and our fatherland.
HW: How involved was the Armenian community in Washington, D.C.?
DK: The ARF “Sebouh” Gomideh’s involvement is praiseworthy. Our ungers immediately created a committee for Armenian medical aid comprised of members from our different organizations, and played a large part in the patient’s everyday and non-clinical needs. The ARS “Satenig” Chapter, along with the Washington Armenian community at large, helped with his practical needs, including finding residence. They greeted him and his brother with open arms and created an atmosphere that resembled a small Armenia for them.
HW: What thoughts do you have about the field of oncology and of medicine, in general? What international Armenian possibilities do you see?
DK: Much thought is needed about the future of oncology in Armenia, keeping in mind that a new cancer center with modern equipment is currently being constructed. Of course, this is great news. But my hope is that the funds and effort spent on this center are not only to make it an exceptional physical structure with exceptional equipment, but also to organize, prepare, and train exceptional future oncologists. I feel that this is the most important, albeit difficult, aspect. Regardless, in real terms, medicine will develop and mature when justice and fairness become the guiding principle, and begin to serve the general public in Armenia. Only when the political field is healed and made right will the medical field and Armenia’s public health condition improve and advance in any significant way.
Nevertheless, our Washington Armenian community is strong, and I am sure it will remain that way for a long time: Our D.C. Armenian Medical Association works on delivering much-needed medicine and expertise to Artsakh, while our ungers help our Armenian people, as much as they can. We are currently working hard to deliver medication and funds for our Syrian-Armenian brothers. Our patriotic ungers always attempt to do what they can, and to deliver aid to needy Armenians found on the four corners of the world.