Dr.Parsyan: After long years in research, I decided to settle for general surgery


Doctors from Gulf states apply to Canada for secured positions through scholarship programs ran by their governments. This is not the case for doctors from other countries who apply through the IMG system. To have a better idea about this system and the challenges that the candidate have to go through, we interviewed Dr.Armen Parsyan:

– Tell us about yourself

Well, I was born in Armenia, studied medicine and surgery there, then moved to US, then to UK then to Canada, where I am not in Montreal. Living here for many years. 

– where did you do your medical school?

In Yerevan, a capitol of Armenia. We had a very good medical educaiton then. 

– what did you do after graduation?

I completed a 3 year residency in General Surgery and worked a little bit afterwards as a junior general surgeon. I also completed a Doctorate in Biology at that time.

– where did you have your master’s?

In Boston, USA. I did my Masters in Public Health (epidemiology and biostatistics) in Boston University and also did clinical internship and was a visiting scholar at Harvard University. I was sponsored at that time by the US Department of State – a very prestigious grant that kept me worryless of financial matters and made me focus on studies. I also worked on a various research projects while in Boston, was a teaching assistant for intro and advanced epidemiology methods courses. 

– where did you have your PhD?

In Cambridge, UK. I did my PhD in the University of Cambridge in a shortest time possible (3 years). Worked on viral genetic and immunology – discovered interesting things. I aslo was a lecturer of epidemiology study designed at Cambridge U. Was sponsered by numerous grants and awards – since its very expensive to study there.

– have you applied before doing your master’s or PhD?

After PhD my family decided to settle in Canada, so I moved to Montreal where I did a few years of postoctoral fellowship in cancer research and biochemistry of translation in a world-renown laboratory of Professor Nahum Sonenberg. We discovered and characterized so many new things in this lab – it was amazing and we published very well (I mean not many but good quality! – at least I like to think so).

– what was the most contributory cause for your acceptance in your opinion?

Luck! I think my research background helped me, my publication record, my scores on exams, my previous experience in gen surg and my passion for it. I had a wonderful interview. Altogether I guess stars aligned at the Match day the way that I got in. 

– how did you manage to publish in well known international journals?

You work hard, you be frank with yourself with whatever you are doing and then hopefully you get interesting results – then you work around those and … prepare the paper. Paper should not be the goal of your research – the goal of the research should be a discovery, preferably a discovery that can have a small or large impact. Paper is just a way to share your joy of discovering something new… I know it sounds idealistic and it doesn’t always work that way, but if your philosophy is that and if you like research you will succeed – I think so!. Sometimes I was working years on one project and not getting any results – frustrating… yes… but that the way science is = you may not get anything for a while and then you find something!!! it is very exiting – at least for me. And then the paper is just a detail, an important one but a detail. Obviously you need to have great mentors to stay strong.

– how many times did you apply?

I applied only once.

– could you kindly give us an idea of how the process works for an IMG?

I now do not remember the details – you apply to various agencies to get your diplomas attested. Then you become eligible for exams. I took all the exams – try to get high scores. You need to get letters of recommendations – preferably strong referees and those who you expect would provide a good letter. You work on your motivation letter – try to be concise and frank as to why you are choosing the specialty. Emphasize your strengths. Prepare a clean resume. Respect deadlines. If you are able to work with one of the faculty at the program that you are applying that might help – since they are insiders and their letters might have a higher weight. Be yourself during the interviews – be as relaxed as possible and as professional as possible. Pray to God that you will get in!

– being away from clinical field for a while, what were the challenges you faced when you started and how did you conquer them?

Major challenge is to learn the system — but don’t worry, once you reached that stage there are plenty of ways the program can help you to get into the system as fast as possible. I caught up in a month or two I think.

– what is your advice for those applying to Canada?

Believe in your dream and follow it. Once you decided do not hesitate and go for it! You will see so many obstacles that sometimes you could choose to give up – try to keep focused and strong. I was joking to my friends at the lab that it is easier for me to get a Nobel Prize (that I am very very far away from) than to get into the general surgery residency. I was on my way to become a professor in cancer research… but… But I wanted to give it a try – first I love surgery, second I did not want to regret that I did not try. I was giving myself almost 0 chances that I will get in – but I did! Take you chance! and Good Luck!

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