Mother, Daughter, Wife, Friend, Teacher & Chief of Glaucoma Surgery
When you ask Dr. Lilit Voskanyan which of her many roles she likes best, she responds “All of them!”
In her capacity as Director of the AECP Glaucoma Clinic and Chief of Glaucoma Surgery at the Malayan Ophthalmological Center in Yerevan, Dr. Voskanyan sees more than 50 patients a day. In her role as a surgeon, she performs approximately 15-17 surgeries a week.
Dr. Voskanyan completed her three-year surgical residency, receiving a Certificate of Ophthalmology, with Honors, in 1991, the same year Armenia declared her independence from the Soviet Union. As well, a confluence of events at the time — the devastating 1988 earthquake, which killed 25,000 people, made 500,000 homeless and decimated Armenia’s infrastructure; the acceleration of the war with Azerbaijan; and Armenia’s transition to independence — triggered a wide number of challenges the newly independent country had to confront.
As Armenia sought to stabilize its government and move to a free-market economy, the health care sector was hit particularly hard. Hospitals were run down, electricity was available for just one hour a day, equipment was outdated or unavailable and physicians’ skills were 30 years behind the Western world as a result of being mired in an antiquated Soviet system.
At the same time, a wave of blindness was sweeping Armenia with thousands of injuries from the earthquake, continuing wars and disease — and many of the victims were children. This caused Armenia’s Minister of Health to put out a call for help. Dr. Roger Ohanesian responded with other U.S. physicians and the Armenian EyeCare Project was founded in 1992.
As the EyeCare Project worked in Armenia to help the country transition from a centralized health care delivery system to an updated decentralized system through patient care and medical education and training, it became evident very quickly that if Armenia’s physicians were going to be able to provide quality eye care, independent of outside assistance, they were going to require extensive education and training.
The Project set out on a search to identify the top ophthalmologists in the country — with the greatest potential — to receive advanced training through a 12-month Fellowship Program in the U.S. Dr. Lilit Voskanyan, who was specializing in glaucoma, was at the top of their list.
Born in 1964, in Yerevan, Dr. Voskanyan comes from a family of scientists. Her father, Albert, is a geographer, and her mother, Juliet, is a climatologist —a doctor who searches the natural resources for different types of diseases. She has one sister — a gynecologist.
Dr. Voskanyan didn’t always want to become a doctor. During childhood, she dreamed of becoming an ambassador. She said that becoming a doctor was her mother’s dream. But Mother knew best.
“I couldn’t have a more rewarding career,” Dr. Voskanyan now says. She chose ophthalmology because “all my life I liked the optics and optical changes in nature and decided to become an ophthalmologist when I was on third level in medical school.”
In 1984, while still in school, Dr. Voskanyan married Karen, a physician. Together, they have a daughter, Astghik, and a son, Spartak.
In 1999, Dr. Voskanyan was selected as an AECP-AAMOS Scholar and did a one-year Research Fellowship in the Medical and Surgical Treatment of Glaucoma at the University of California, Irvine, with Dr. Richard Hill, Director. The most important thing Dr. Voskanyan learned while she trained in the U.S. was to “treat patients very well, to treat them right and to be attentive.” Most of all, she credits her teacher — “I learned from Dr. Hill how to teach!”
What was it like to work with Dr. Hill? “When your chief and supervisor is very skillful, knows everything you ask him, and is very intelligent, you feel very responsible for everything you learned from him. It is great to have a person like Dr. Hill as your teacher and your friend.
We asked Dr. Voskanyan how she is able to meet all of the demands upon her time and in her enthusiastic manner, she responded, “While you can’t do it all, I have fun trying because I love everything I do.”
As she was talking about her increased work load following her Fellowship and her patients, Dr. Voskanyan said, “Many people in Armenia, including lots of children, need help because of their glaucoma disease. When you can save their sight, and even restore their vision, that’s great!”
One of the Chief’s most important responsibilities is teaching. Dr. Voskanyan supervises several doctors in the Glaucoma Clinic. “With our doctors, there are about 10 residents in our Department for each academic period. I have special lectures for medical students as well — about 120 students per year.”
What does she like most about teaching? “The result that you get when the new doctor becomes more skillful.”