‘Greece’s un­em­ploy­ment fright­ens me,’ says Har­vard’s sole Greek med­i­cal stu­dent

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY APOS­TO­LOS LAKASAS

“The un­em­ploy­ment in Greece fright­ens me. Peo­ple who are more qual­i­fied than I am are un­able to find a job whether that be full- or part­time. It’s very dif­fi­cult for some­one to be pro­duc­tive work­ing in a field that is of no per­sonal or pro­fes­sional in­ter­est,” said Yian­nis Kalo­girou Valtis from the north­ern port city of Thes­sa­loniki.

To­day, Yian­nis is the only Greek stu­dent at Har­vard Med­i­cal School and one of 22,000 young Greeks who are study­ing abroad, the vast ma­jor­ity of whom wish to re­main over­seas for vo­ca­tional pur­poses. Yian­nis was ac­cepted with a full schol­ar­ship in 2014, a year in which only 320 can­di­dates were ac­cepted out of the 6,614 ap­pli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted.

“I was at­tracted to the idea of study­ing in an un­fa­mil­iar place. Har­vard’s rep­u­ta­tion ob­vi­ously played a part in my de­ci­sion,” Yian­nis re­sponded when asked why he chose to study abroad in­stead of in Greece.

“I was im­pressed with Har­vard from the very first day. It en­cour­ages all its stu­dents to have high stan­dards and to take ini­tia­tives. I re­mem­ber that in an in­tro­duc­tory lec­ture, the pro­fes­sor said that ev­ery­one in the room would change the world for the bet­ter. Even if her state­ment was ex­ag­ger­ated, our aca­demic ca­reer was shaped from the con­fi­dence that was in­stilled in us from the very first day. Many of my fel­low stu­dents are al­ready in­volved in in­ter­na­tional re­search projects that could im­prove the qual­ity of med­i­cal care for thou­sands of peo­ple. Ob­vi­ously, en­cour­age­ment comes hand in hand with the means and fund­ing needed for the pro­fes­sors and stu­dents to achieve their goals,” said Yian­nis.

Yian­nis has been trav­el­ing to Tan­za­nia and Rwanda as part of a re­search pro­gram aimed at help­ing to fur­ther ed­u­cate African med­i­cal stu­dents. Ac­cord­ing to Yian­nis, one of the main weak­nesses of med­i­cal prac­tice in the Sub-Sa­ha­ran re­gion is that stu­dents do not have ac­cess to med­i­cal pe­ri­od­i­cals and sources for clin­i­cal guide­lines be­cause of the high sub­scrip­tion costs.

“My su­per­vi­sor and I ne­go­ti­ated with one of the largest US pub­lish­ing houses for a 7-mil­lion-dol­lar do­na­tion in med­i­cal sup­plies for doc­tors and med­i­cal stu­dents in four African coun­tries. I vis­ited two of the coun­tries to plan how the do­na­tion would be ex­e­cuted in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal aca­demics,” said Yian­nis.

Liv­ing abroad for two years now, Yian­nis be­lieves that in­ter­na­tional public opin­ion about Greece has been shaped by dis­torted in­for­ma­tion.

“Un­for­tu­nately, anal­y­sis of the Greek fi­nan­cial cri­sis by the in­ter­na­tional media is of­ten su­per­fi­cial," he said, adding that he was both­ered by what he said was a por­trayal of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Greece and its cred­i­tors as a power strug­gle that dis­carded the con­se­quences of the ne­go­ti­a­tions’ re­sults on the Greek peo­ple. “Nev­er­the­less, some med­i­cal cir­cles in the US are con­cerned about the long-term ef­fects of the fi­nan­cial cri­sis on the Greek healthcare sys­tem,” said Yian­nis.

Yian­nis hasn’t ex­cluded the pos­si­bil­ity of com­ing back to Greece if an op­por­tu­nity presents it­self that would al­low him to con­trib­ute to his coun­try’s healthcare sys­tem.

“Of course, my area of in­ter­est is im­prov­ing the health stan­dards of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, in which the world’s poor­est pop­u­la­tions re­side. So I be­lieve that I will spend a large part of my pro­fes­sional life in Africa.”

Har­vard stu­dent Yian­nis Kalo­girou Valtis, from Thes­sa­loniki, has been trav­el­ing to Tan­za­nia and Rwanda as part of a re­search pro­gram aimed at help­ing to fur­ther ed­u­cate African med­i­cal stu­dents.

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