It’s heartwarming to find doctors who dedicate themselves to advocating positive changes in healthcare, particularly in rural Armenia, a place where change is most needed.

Meet Dr. Gandzapar Saratikyan, 58, and Dr. Marusya Yeghishyan, 59, husband and wife and professional partners for the past 29 years. Since 1990, both have worked relentlessly to provide comprehensive healthcare for people of all ages in their hometown of Ayrum Village in Tavush Province, and the nearby communities of Lchkadzor and Archesh.

The only family doctors in Ayrum, Gandzapar and Marusya have both faced and overcome many challenges which could have arguably vexed others. At one point, they often had to walk miles and miles or travel by horseback or donkey to get to patients in need. They’ve become accustomed to working 24/7 without relief, and being called to see patients in the dead of night. Through it all, they have proven themselves to be bold, persistent and caring physicians, who today run Ayrum Medical Center.

 

 

Between 1999 and 2000, the couple participated in a series of trainings as part of a Word Bank program which provided them the capacity building needed to obtain their official certification as general family physicians. The program also provided them with the majority of financial support to renovate the medical center. The couple themselves then petitioned donors to make up the $4,000 funding gap needed to make the renovation happen.

In 2016, Gadzapar and Marusya were accepted into FAR’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) program, and spent one month in Yerevan for comprehensive training focused primarily on pediatrics, an area where both of them felt they needed more knowledge about the latest approaches and methods of treatment.

 

 

“We have a lot of problems with the healthcare system in Ayrum, which are pretty much the same problems we have throughout rural Armenia—the knowledge gap, lack of competent specialists, little funding from the government, etc. CME was a turning point for me and Marusya, through which we updated our knowledge free of charge and created a new network of colleagues. It was a good chance for us to put our fingers on the pulse of today’s medicine,” says Gandzapar, who also highlighted the accessibility of the program as compared to others they’ve tried but were not happy with. “CME was different because it’s free and the participants are provided with housing and accommodations. It’s a combination of both theory and practice, and it has a medicine-rich curriculum.”

Following CME, the couple said they have been able to work more efficiently and effectively by altering some of their practices in order to do what’s best for their patients.

“A lot of children come to see me when they have bronchitis or croup. I used to recommend they either apply warm compresses on their feet or, in harsh cases, I’d direct them to the hospital. However, after CME, I learned that false croup can be quickly cured with dexamethasone,” said Marusya.

 

 

Gadzapar and Marusya met while studying at Yerevan State University Medical School. “Our paths crossed when some of our mutual college friends organised a party and invited both of us. From then on, it was a magnetic force that kept us together,” recollected Marusya.

Although the couple was living a comfortable life in the capital at that time, they left it all and headed to Ayrum in 1990. Gandzapar, who grew up in Ayrum, said that village life, nature and its people pulled him back to his roots, both as a resident and as someone who wanted to impact his community.

“The real doctor is not one who just understands his/her patients and their concerns, but also the one who tries to make a difference in the community, in patients’ lives, and in the healthcare system,” says Gandzapar.