Summer medical mission to Armenia

YEREVAN, ARMENIA – Dr. Victoria Kaprielian, associate dean for faculty development and medical education, led a team of four medical students with Dr. Charlotte Paolini, chair of family medicine, in western Armenia this summer.

 “Armenia is my ancestral homeland,” said Kaprielian whose maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States as refugees from the 1915 Turkish massacres.   “I was invited to join a team from the Little River Baptist Association in 2015 – that mission trip was my first time in Armenia – and we used the trip as a pilot test of how it would work for a medical student mission team.  Rachel Ballou (CUSOM 2018) went with me, and the trip was a wonderful experience, so we decided to expand the program and take a full team this year.”

The team arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and traveled north to Vanadzor and Gyumri where they worked in clinics, hosted education days, and provided home visits.

“Meeting and working with people from Armenia was incredibly rewarding,” said Dr. Kaprielian.  “They were gracious hosts, very welcoming, and extremely grateful for our help.”

Campbell University’s medical school is committed to domestic and international mission trips because of the opportunity to serve those in desperate need as well as the firsthand experience they offer to medical students at all stages of their training.

“Students get to see medical problems they might not here in the U.S. – like Familial Mediterranean Fever, known in Armenia as “’Yerevanian Syndrome’,” said Dr. Kaprielian.  “They also learn about practicing without reliance on tests and imaging studies that are so readily available here, but not everywhere.”

“This was my 5th medical mission trip, but my first in Armenia,” said Sarah Davis (CUSOM 2019). “One of the reasons I choose to come to CUSOM for medical school was for the opportunity to be a part of medical mission trips. I loved that this trip was for a very small group with lots of hands-on opportunities and that the clinics were going to be coordinated through pastors at their churches which allowed for a continued faith outreach to the patients once we were gone.”

Like, Sarah Davis, Jonathan Vanadore (CUSOM 2019) chose Campbell for medical school because of the mission opportunities and the trip to Armenia was his second medical mission trip this year.

“The most valuable aspects of the mission experience are the opportunities:  to serve, to learn and practice as a student-doctor, and to grow as a person,” said Vanadore.  “I think it is important to serve how ever I am able.  Like many others, I feel medicine is a calling.  I have been granted certain knowledge and capabilities, and I think it is important to share that in whatever capacity I can.  Mission trips can put you out of your comfort zone – working with cultures and languages completely different from what you are used to – this is vital to being a successful physician as well as to grow as a person.”

When they return from the mission field, medical students consistently share that the experience helps them maintain perspective while they are in an intensely academic stage of their training.

“Medical missions are a wonderful reminder that at the end of the day you are serving people – not a quota or a textbook example – and this is something that sitting in a classroom can never teach,” reflected student doctor Davis.

Katie Prosser, CUSOM 2019, echoed this experience.

“Medical missions allow you to put the skills and information you are learning in the classroom into practice – I was reminded that I chose to go to medical school because I want to help people live healthier lives.”

The people the medical team serves also give back to the students.

“I knew very little about Armenia when I first heard about the trip. I did a little research on the country and was intrigued by its vast history and strong Christian faith. The more I learned about the country, the more I was drawn to Armenia,” continued Prosser.  “My favorite memory was sitting down at the table in the church for a family style meal following a clinic. We were surrounded by Armenians who told stories of their country and shared their Christian faith. It was incredible to see God’s work through these individuals.”

“My favorite memory of the trip would have to be going to the orphanage in Gyumri,” said Vanadore.  “I was expecting to go and just spend time with the kids, but when we got there they surprised us with a recital featuring traditional Armenian songs and dances – some amazing talent!”

 “One of my favorite memories was going with Dr. Paolini for a house call at the end of a long clinic day,” said Davis. “We visited an elderly woman who lived with her family many stories up in an apartment building. She had several geriatric problems that we really could do very little to improve, but we did our best to make her comfortable. After we prayed together and were saying goodbye, she leaned over to give us kisses and bless us. This was a very moving experience for me because, even in her pain, she had so much joy, and, even though we really had nothing medically to offer, she was so happy that we had come.”

The next Campbell medical mission trip is planned for Fall Break in Equador.