Photo: Lyolya (right) with UC Davis pediatric residents starting a day of research and clinical care at the Public Hospital of Roatan in Honduras.

Lyolya Hovhannisyan is a 2nd year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She recently completed a short-term training program (STTP) in global health.

Growing up in Armenia, Lyolya Hovhannisyan experienced the detrimental effects that inequitable healthcare access and a lack of health education have on communities, families, and individuals. Her background led her to immerse herself in various global public health coursework, service, and research, locally as well as internationally, throughout her academic career.

As an undergraduate at UCLA, Lyolya and a colleague co-founded Flying Samaritans at UCLA, an organization that provides healthcare and health education in Colonia Margarita Moran (CMM), a low-resource community near Tijuana, Mexico. In 2013, the organization established a community clinic in CMM and commenced monthly trips to provide culturally-sensitive and locally-appropriate medical care and health education, as well as conduct community health assessments to improve their outreach efforts.

During her undergraduate career, Lyolya also received a scholarship from UCLA Blum Center for Poverty and Health in Latin America to conduct research in the rural community of Petit Goave, Haiti. In collaboration with the HGD Foundation Clinic and under the mentorship of Dr. David Cutler, Lyolya worked with a research team to assess diabetes awareness in the community, create a local health resource catalogue, and provide diabetes education.

Inspired and motivated by these experiences, Lyolya pursued a Master of Science in Global Health at UCSF to obtain a multi-disciplinary understanding of health and research training prior to matriculating at DGSOM. For her thesis, she conducted research on infant feeding determinants among mothers and pregnant women on the island of Roatan, Honduras. She also had the opportunity to collaborate with the University of California Global Health Institute (UCGHI) to plan a satellite session for the Annual Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH). In this role, Lyolya led interactive sessions on cultural sensitivity and providing healthcare to Syrian refugees in the United States.

Born and raised in Armenia until the age of nine, Lyolya had desired for a long time to return to Armenia to conduct global health research. At the end of her first year of medical school, she was able to achieve this goal through the Center for World Health Global Short-Term Training Program (STTP), the guidance of her mentor Dr. Shant Shekherdimian, and the Children of Armenia Fund. Through her previous experiences in global health, Lyolya had developed a strong interest in non-communicable diseases, as they are the leading cause of death globally and highlight the devastating healthcare inequalities in institutions and communities. Therefore, for her global STTP, she developed a qualitative research project on diabetes knowledge, attitudes, and practices among healthcare workers and patients with diabetes in rural Armenia. While in Armenia, she visited various community health clinics to conduct interviews and shadowed local and foreign physicians collecting data. These experiences gave her a deeper understanding of the Armenian healthcare system and availability of local resources in the region. Lyolya is currently continuing data analysis and hopes to further develop local partnerships to expand the project nationally.

When reflecting upon her various global health experiences, Lyolya says, “I learned that responsible humanitarianism and healthcare entail sustainability and strengthening of existing infrastructures. Most of all, I further embraced that health as a human right does not exist in isolation, that impactful change in health is embedded in simultaneously addressing clinical symptoms and the social and systemic determinants of health. This is what drives my passion in global health. I endeavor to continue strengthening this as a physician, locally, and globally.”

More information on Lyolya’s global STTP: apps.medsch.ucla.edu/josiahbrown/archive/2017/37
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