|A.Ariunzaya is a respected children’s doctor and retina specialist at Bolor Melmii Eye Hospital. She won the Young Doctor with Golden Hands award from the Mongolian Youth Federation earlier this month. She is well-known among her peers as she previously won the prestigious Rising Doctor award in 2011 and received honorary credential from the Ministry of Health in 2015.
Dr. A.Ariunzaya gave an extensive interview about her career and eye heath.
Congratulations on winning the Young Doctor with Golden Hands award. It must be a big event for you. What’s it like to win this award?
I feel elated to have received the Best Orthodox Doctor of the Year award and the Young Doctor with Golden Hands, which is determined by the Health Standing Committee and Health Corporation of the Mongolian Youth Federation. It’s a very prestigious prize which invigorates and encourages young doctors.
I’ve attended countless training sessions and workshops, studied abroad a few times, and participated in several academic meetings. During this time, I’ve published academic research, presentations and publications.
I’m sure these helped to some extent but ultimately, the greatest help I received are from my professors. All their teachings, advice, and support have inspired and pushed me to become a better person and doctor.
How long have you been working as a doctor?
It’s been 11 years since I started my career as a doctor. During this period, I’ve worked at the National Center for Maternal and Children’s Health (NCMCH) and Second State Central Hospital. Afterwards, I became a children’s doctor and retina specialist at Bolor Melmii Eye Hospital, and have been working there since.
The retinal field started developing in Mongolia three years ago. There’s only a handful of specialists right now. I’m glad to be one of these people striving to develop this field.
It’s hard to become a doctor, especially an eye doctor. Why did you decide to take on such a challenging career? Are there doctors in your family besides you?
My mentor is folk doctor, founder of Bolor Melmii Eye Hospital and professor J.Baasankhuu. I enrolled into the Mongolian National University of Medical Sciences (MNUMS) with the determination to become the best surgeon and doctor because I wanted to become a doctor ever since I was a kid. I wasn’t sure whether I should specialize in eye, brain or heart. My mentor was a great role model, which inspired me to become an eye doctor.
I can’t leave without mentioning MNUMS professors D.Uranchimeg and Bulgan and NCMCH professor Altankhuu. They let me tag along with them and taught me many things.
You said that there are only a handful of retina doctors. Where are retina doctors trained in Mongolia?
I graduated from the MNUMS and continued my studies as a general eye doctor. I specialized in retinal health in India. Later, I signed up for a one-year training in Beijing, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan. People had to get this type of surgery done overseas when retina doctors weren’t trained in Mongolia. As treatment overseas is very expensive, only those with money could afford treatment while those without money ended up going blind. Now, retinal doctors are trained locally at our hospital.
Tell us about retinal diseases that are common in Mongolia.
Retinal diseases are the most extreme eye diseases and disorders. It occurs when the inner layer of the eye, its tissues, and veins are injured. Retinal disorder can cause blindness. Diabetes and congenital disease can damage the retina.
The layers of the eye can become thinner, torn, detached or damaged if people with poor eye sight are left untreated. In rare occasions, people are highly likely to be affected with retinal disease due to eye injuries, paralysis, or strokes. Preventive treatment is crucial. If a retinal detachment is found, it will need laser treatment.
…Video games and too much homework are increasing the risk of deterioration of one’s vision. Mothers need to pay attention to their children’s diet and keep them away from smart and electronic devices…
You’ve performed many strabismus surgeries. Is it possible to completely correct and treat strabismus?
Children are still born with eye problems and strabismus. It’s possible to fully heal congenital strabismus with surgery and poor eyesight with the correct glasses. However, if you ignore it and leave it untreated, you will have no choice but to get a surgery. In some occasions, it worsens so much that there’s no chance of recovery.
It’s very important for parents of children born with visual problems to have them get regular checkups from the age of two. People with eye problems need eye checkups every six months and wear prescription glasses.
Isn’t eye surgery very risky? You’ve operated on more than 700 patients. Have you faced any challenges during surgery?
Every surgery is risky. There are times when patients have hypovolemic shock from excessive blood loss, muscle weakness, and wound dehiscence, which occurs when surgical wound closures reopen. Especially surgery for adults is dangerous because it’s inevitable that some kind of problem will occur, but until now, I haven’t faced a single problem while operating on a patient.
I try to do everything as taught by my mentors and professors, and continuously train and practice to be prepared for any situation. Some patients experience swollenness, bleeding in the eye and deteriorated vision, but all of it heals as time passes by.
What’s the best thing about being an eye doctor?
Although it is the most difficult occupation requiring a high-level of skill, it’s a wonderful job that gives vision to people and lets them see the world. Over 80 percent of patients that I treated express gratitude.
Young people have an ocean of dreams and wishes. What’s your dream?
Of course, a person’s wishes and wants are limitless. My biggest ambition as a doctor is to prevent diseases and continue to heal them in the future. Preventing illnesses and diseases is the most important thing. If I could do as I wanted, I would visit rural communities and give consultation and organize workshops to raise public awareness on eye diseases, its risks and dangers, and preventive measures. I want to involve more people in regular checkups, implement international projects and help those in need.
When I was doing checkups in Songinokhairkhan District, it was heartbreaking to discover that there are many people living with visual impairment and blindness because they couldn’t afford treatment. The few hospitals in Mongolia are unable to handle the number of patients, making it extremely challenging to pay attention to preventive measures.
How many people get eye checkups a day?
It’s hard to say. Our hospital isn’t as busy as public hospitals. Even though we have all the required equipment and personnel, we don’t have many clients.
How can people prevent eye diseases and disorders?
Social factors such as stress, smoking, premature birth due to air pollution, food and other factors increase the chance of visual problems in infants. Moreover, computers and phones are everywhere. Video games and too much homework are increasing the risk of deterioration of one’s vision. Mothers need to pay attention to their children’s diet and keep them away from smart and electronic devices.
Let’s slightly change the topic. What is happiness to you?
Since I’m a doctor, I consider being healthy to be the truest form of happiness. After that is having a job, making ends meet, having enough food and clothes, and spending time with your family, friends and having children. It isn’t enjoyable to work day and night for money without eating properly, getting sick due to all the workload, and not being able to spend money on it.
Doctors have tons of responsibility and little time to spend on themselves. Are you able to make time for your family?
I used to get calls for urgent patients all the time when I was working at the State Central Second Hospital. Many people used to come to the hospital during the New Year’s from injuries caused by fireworks, and poking their eye with sharp tools such as pencils and pens. It was common to get called back to the hospital at night.
Though the time I spend with my family is scarce, I was able to come thus far thanks to their open-minds and understanding. I concentrate on improving myself and my skills because I love being a doctor.
Once I start something, I have to finish it. Or else, my mind doesn’t rest. I realized that time was gold while studying in China for a year. Since then, I started trying to spend my time more productively. Now I hate spending time unproductively. Instead of resting, I use my leisure time to develop myself. Even if I’m watching a foreign film, I watch it with subtitles so I can hear the English dialogue. I get frustrated when I see someone just idly spending their time. You can’t get back your youth or reverse time. If we don’t do something now, when else would we find the time to do it, right? So spend time productively.
Compared to when I was young, I’ve become wiser and more hard-working. There are many people who spend time unproductively. I hope that people can start fighting against time and strive towards their future from now on. The more you procrastinate and delay things, the harder it becomes to finish them.
What are the most important traits of a doctor?
The most important thing a doctor should remember is to be ethical. They need to have good knowledge, be well-educated and always think of what’s best for the patient. They need to be empathetic and put themselves in the shoes of patients and their family.