Buddha once said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” As future health care providers, our main purpose is to make a difference in the world by promoting health and healing. At least that was the entirety of my intent when I accepted the offer to go to Noyemberyan, Armenia, as a missionary with the hospital where I volunteer. When I was first granted the permission to attend the mission trip, I was extremely excited for the opportunity. However, after the initial excitement, the difficulty of school started to make me question if I was in over my head by pursuing medicine. I was also nervous to go back to my homeland. My family had sheltered me from seeing the poverty and corruption when I was a child living in Armenia. This would be my first opportunity to see Armenia through an adult’s eyes.
Needing to push through all-nighters made me feel like I was not learning; I was just trying to keep up. This affected me personally because I am not just studying to pass a test and forget the information moments after. I am studying because the wisdom I attain as an undergraduate is going to be the foundation that I build upon throughout medical school and will later aid me in saving the lives of my patients.
As the months passed leading up to my trip, I was losing the big picture of why I was taking the journey to medicine. But after arriving in Armenia, my feelings of doubt were soon replaced. On our first day in Noyemberyan, I was introduced to the team I would be working with. Forty six health care professionals (physicians, nurses, administrators, and biomedical engineers) with forty six different reasons why they had joined this mission. Our clinic included services from pediatrics to cardiology, a pharmacy, and even surgery. There were roughly 2.5 tons of supplies delivered before our arrival. During the 5 days of clinics being conducted, a total of 110 surgeries were performed within ophthalmology, gynecology, maxillofacial, and orthopedic services. Also, an estimate of over 1700 patients were seen and provided with preventative care. Although my scope of participation was limited to assessments such as taking vitals, testing for cholesterol, and performing EKGs, I was not going to take this opportunity for granted. I made it my mission to prove to myself that one day, I would be a physician giving hope to people just like the rest of the missionaries on the trip.
These forty six individuals all took it upon themselves to share with me the pillars of their success. While volunteering at the hospital over a two year time period, I had seen fearless health care professionals and thought, “I want to be just like them.” I never thought of the challenges they might have faced while on their own path to becoming health care professionals.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a chance. It can be intimidating to approach someone to ask for an opportunity to shadow. However, if you don’t try, the answer is a definite no. When I first heard about the mission trip, it had just happened and there was a reception going on to celebrate its success. I decided I would wait for the reception to be over to ask questions regarding how I could help and get involved for the trip the following year. It happened that a board member at the hospital, who I had not yet met, spotted me and asked me to take a seat next to her. She asked me questions regarding my goals and after the physicians presenting were finished speaking, she introduced me to the individuals involved. I had, for lack of a better term, “crashed” the reception in the hope of doing busy work such as making copies and taking meeting minutes. I never expected for them to extend an invitation for me to go on the trip. Had I been afraid and walked past the reception, I would not have had the slightest chance at this opportunity.
Use all of your resources. If you volunteer at a hospital, ask if you can be granted permission to join staff education opportunities. Not only will you learn relevant information about healthcare, but you will also have the perfect opportunity for networking. This was advice given to me by a pediatrician who granted me a shadowing opportunity upon my return. I helped him with his clinic by doing initial patient assessments: taking children’s vital signs and measuring height and weight. He also referred me to a charity he thought I would like and offered to invite me to research lectures given at a local children’s hospital.
Don’t give up at the first sign of hardship. Everyone is battling hardships on a daily basis. “If we aren’t facing challenges, we aren’t challenging ourselves enough.” This was advice given to me by the pharmacist on the trip. His story was inspiring to me as one of an incredible journey. It taught me not to let everyday difficulties weigh me down because ultimately, as future physicians we need to learn to bear with the difficulties of our terminally ill patients and learn to appreciate and find a way to combat non-biological factors that contribute to the poor health phenomenon. I was also inspired by the Armenian people living in Noyemberyan. Seeing how they were able to get by with the very minimum, put my challenges into perspective.
Recognize your limits. Don’t burn yourself out. Do the most you can without hurting your physical or mental health. Before going to Armenia, I felt myself losing grip and felt incompetent but the doctors on this trip helped me realize the only reason I felt this way was because I was fighting to strengthen skills while leaving my mental health behind. Ever since I got back from my trip, I have been concentrating on fighting stress and living a healthy lifestyle. I imagine I’ll one day suggest my patients to do the same. My Monday and Wednesday morning classes are followed by yoga and meditation in the afternoon. My diet no longer consists of junk food bought in between classes and my average hours of sleep went from 5 hours a night to 7.
Before, I used to think of cooking myself a meal and meditating as a waste of time. My motto was, “If you are breathing, you should be studying.” Now, I no longer feel that way. In fact, I no longer question my abilities and find myself having an easier time focusing and retaining information. Before we can become doctors and help others, we need to learn to take care of ourselves. I would not have realized this had I not met doctors who have gone through the challenges I was facing. Take care of yourself today, so you can take care of others in the future.
About Araks Ghazaryan
Araks Ghazaryan was born in Armenia and migrated to the U.S. with her family in 2005. She is a first generation college student and a sophomore at Glendale Community College with the intention of transferring to a university for a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. She is a Health Scholar for Glendale Adventist Medical Center through Cope Health Solutions pipeline where she has rotated through Surgical Unit, Cardiac Telemetry Unit, Couplet Care, Labor and Delivery, Cardiac Catheterization Lab, and Emergency Department. Araks has also been named Assistant Director of Departments at GAMC where she mentors and trains other Health Scholars who join the program.