“I felt like I was thrown in a pool without being taught how to swim.” – Farah Mamedova

Hello Dear Friends as you know our new rubric “Journey to Success” as we promised to introduce interesting individuals in Azerbaijani community in Houston. Today we would like to introduce our next members of Azerbaijani community Farah Mamedova M.D. F.A.A.P.

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Thank you for finding time for our interview. Being a doctor is a very busy job, isn’t it?

It is difficult, especially trying to balance the business of working in a busy practice along with family and other personal obligations. So it can be quite challenging. In United States working in a private medical practice, you don’t only practice medicine but you also have to think of a business side of it. So you have to kind of balance both, the medical side of it as well as the business aspect and that just makes it even harder. I think back home we were used to doctors just practicing medicine and not worrying about anything else. Here in United States there is a little twist to it.

How long have you been working here and what is your current role?

I have joined Steeplechase Pediatrics in 2005. I am one of 8 pediatricians that cover 3 clinics. Prior to that I have completed Pediatric Residency program at Baylor College of Medicine under mentorship of internationally renowned specialist in Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases Dr. Ralph Feigin and have done additional training in Neonatal and Perinatal Department at Baylor.

As I know you had to study and work very hard. Can you tell us about days when you just moved to America?

I moved to the United States, to Houston in 1999, because of my husband who has completed his education by then and was working in Houston. I was a medical student in Baku at that time, so after finishing my studies in Azerbaijan State Medical University, I came here, knowing that I will be pursuing a medical career. As you might have heard, it is quite a lengthy process to prove your medical education in the US. Four exams before you are even eligible to apply for residency. Preparations took me slightly less than two years and after that I have applied to a number of residency programs all over the country. I got lucky and got an offer from Baylor College of Medicine, which is a very competitive program and it is also here in Houston. So I joined them in 2001 and graduated from residency in 2004. Like I have mentioned, I have done some additional Neonatal raining in 2005, after which I joined Steeplechase Pediatrics.

What was the hardest part about starting your career in a foreign country, besides, of course, all the studying?

First few months in the residency were extremely hard. I have to say that as a graduate from Azerbaijan State Medical University you are not prepared for clinical practice in the United States at all, because the way things are being taught here are completely different. I felt like I was thrown in a pool without being taught how to swim. It was even harder for me because I have joined residency mid year. I have started six month after everybody else started, so I had to adapt to circumstances even faster. I have made it, and now remembering all of those years I actually smile and think that it was kind of fun. So I guess it was not that bad.

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You have completed your education in Azerbaijan. How can you evaluate it? Was it strong enough or you had to learn a lot after you moved here?

Of course in Azerbaijani education system, the way I remember it at least, you can get as little or as much as you want out of it. Theoretically, we have a good system and if you make an effort and try not to take any shortcuts, then you can learn a lot. I also like that we have oral exams, which I think is more challenging than taking multiple choice exams. Also, a lot of emphasis is made on the theoretical part of your education, not as much on clinical, which is very different from the US. In general, it is very different, so I do not think it is fair to compare. I had to learn a lot of material from scratch, though.

How big was Azerbaijani community in Houston when you moved here and were you a part of it?

When I first moved here in 1999 the only people from Azerbaijan that I knew were my husband, Irada Akhundova and a couple more people. But really there were not that many people from Azerbaijan that I knew of, but definitely I kept in touch with people I knew. Over the years number of people in Azeri community has exploded and I probably don’t know quarter of Azerbaijanis living here. At the same time, I try to stay involved as much as my circumstances allow, balancing between family and kids and my busy practice. It is not that easy, but I try to do my best.

How often do you go back to Azerbaijan?

Not as often as I would like to, but at least every couple of years. I have my family there, so I try to visit them as often as I can.

Many believe that medicine in Azerbaijan is the area that needs a lot of improvement. What is your point of view on that? What, in your opinion, are the ways to improve it?

I think medical system in Azerbaijan needs a lot of improvement, a lot of work. I have not worked in Azerbaijan as a doctor, so I have an outsider’s view and opinion, but I think it all should start with education. Education has to be taken more seriously. I am sure there have to be a lot of reforms and changes, it has to be more objective. We make a lot of emphasis on the theoretical part of the medicine, not as much on the clinical part. So I definitely think that more clinical rotations have to be integrated into medical education.

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On the other side, Houston is known for its great medical field and outstanding doctors. What is the biggest benefit of working here?

The wonderful part of being in Houston Medical Community is that we have access to world famous medical facilities like MD Anderson, Texas Children’s Hospital, Methodist Hospital, Memorial Hermann Health System, etc. People come from all over the world to get their treatment here. The accessibility to all the specialists is something that makes my job more interesting as well as more thorough. I can consult a physician in any specialty, they are just a phone call away. It is great for the patients, as well as very valuable for the physicians who work here.

President Obama made some significant changes, and one of them was his famous Obama care. How did it change the industry?

It has not really changed much yet. As you know Obama care really took effect just this year. So we have not seen many changes yet. I am a little bit skeptical about what it is going to bring. I am yet to see the outcome, good or bad. Hopefully it will be for the benefit of patient and the physicians. So ask me about that maybe in a year.

What do you consider the biggest achievement in your career?

I am just taking it one day at a time. My goal when I came to United States was to go through this process and become a full fledged doctor, which I have become. Then I wanted to find a practice where I can contribute a lot for benefit of my patients and the community. I am currently doing that. I along with my collegues are working on making our clinic one of the best in Houston for our younger patients. That is my current goal.

Do you have a lot of patients from Azerbaijan?

I do. I have quite a few patients from all over the former Soviet Union, and, of course, a lot of patients from Azerbaijan. It is a pleasure being helpful to members of my community. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people from our community.

What is the most important thing that you took from Azerbaijan and its culture?

I think the best thing about being from Azerbaijan is that we are taught a good mixture of Eastern and Western values. I am moderate in my views, whether in regards to politics or religion, and that is why I think for people from our background it is easier to be integrated to such a diverse community as well as being accepted by people from different backgrounds. Also I think a very good thing about being from Azerbaijan is that our parents instill right values in us. They instill the love for education. It is not an option if you are going to graduate from school and go to college. Also, majority of people in Azerbaijan know at least two or three languages and I think it helps us down the road.

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You are a mother of two children. How important is it to you that they learn about Azerbaijan and its culture, as they are growing up?

I think, it is very important for them to grow up knowing where their roots are from. I am trying to instill it in them. My girls started attending Azerbaijani classes recently, which are organized by Azerbaijan Center. They are enjoying it a lot, they love interacting with their friends from Azerbaijan. It is definitely a very important issue for me.

In general, do you consider your journey a success?

I am glad that I have a successful career. I continually work on it and hopefully will contribute to even further success of my practice. So I am satisfied with where my career is right now.

Do you celebrate Novruz in US?

Unfortunately not to the extent that we have back home but we try to celebrate it and make traditional honcha at home. We have just attended the annual Novruz party.

How do you like to spend your free time?

I spend most of my free time with my family. Having two kids takes a considerable amount of time. We like to travel and try to go to Baku as much as possible.

Do you have a hobby?

I collect refrigerator magnets from all over the world so if you know of anyone going to Nepal I would appreciate a magnet.

Who of the famous Americans has impressed you the most?

I don’t usually subscribe to the fact that famous people are role models. Some are and some not so much. Dr. Feigin at the Baylor College of Medicine was one of the brightest most intelligent people I have ever met. He will be missed.

Have you ever had a role model?

My parents.

What would be your one most important recommendation for Azerbaijani newcomers to Houston?

Study hard, get as much education as possible and things will work out for the best. This country values education and hard work.

Interview by Murad Gafarov

Photos by Togrul Mamedbekov

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