Article written by Janet Kotsakis, Dareilena Karaviti, Dr. Fran Zappalla and Dr. Elias Iliadis
As soon as you meet Dareilena Karaviti, you sense her energy and drive. The vibrant 22 year old native of Kalamata, Greece speaks with enthusiasm about her studies at the Medical School of the University of Athens. Having recently completed her fourth year of a 6 year program, she shares her eagerness to put her interest in pediatrics and research to use upon graduation. She also proudly mentions her distinction of being the first medical student to be hosted by the Hellenic Medical Society (HMS) of Philadelphia in their Medical Student/Resident Exchange Program.
The Hellenic Medical Society of Philadelphia is a nonprofit organization made up of health care professionals including Physicians, Dentists, Optometrists, Nurses and allied health care professionals of Hellenic descent and its goals are “networking and fellowship, scholarship and philanthropy.” After hearing of the recent experience of Dareilena Karaviti, it is easy to see that the society’s Medical Student/Resident Exchange Program successfully fulfills each of those goals.
The waiting list for a medical residency at a Greek hospital can be longer than 5 years. In the meantime, graduates can work in small villages and islands providing first aid, or in private clinics where they are given very few responsibilities due to their lack of specialization. Even those lackluster opportunities have long wait lists. Dareilena felt those choices were too limiting, and after a great deal of research and discussion with her family, teachers, and other graduates, she became determined to find a residency position at a hospital in the United States. Despite her resolve, she knew she would need a helping hand. She is grateful to HMS Philadelphia for providing that support.
When Dareilena found HMS during an internet search, she felt immediately that they would be able to provide her with guidance regarding Philadelphia’s hospital programs. She says, “I thought that since all of the physicians that are members in the society are Greeks, some of them might have been in my position in the past and that they might be willing to help me.” Unbeknownst to her at the time, in HMS, she had discovered a group established on that very idea, and in Dr. Elias Iliadis, she had found a mentor eager to repay a past kindness on to deserving students. Dareilena’s first contact at HMS was Dr. Iliadis, Associate Director, Cardiac Cath Lab at Cooper University Hospital and Director of Vascular Medicine. He is a founding member of HMS Philadelphia and has served as the group’s President since 2010.
Frequently, Dr. Iliadis shares the story of how he got involved with HMS Philadelphia and why he believes so firmly in their important work. Fondly, he recalls being a medical student in need of assistance, and finding that help through the HMS New York’s Medical Student Scholarship Program, receiving a grant for $10,000 over a 4 year period. He says, “I felt very proud and honored that my community was investing in my career and education.” While in Chicago during training, Dr. Iliadis became a part of the HMS Chicago and recalls the Society’s support of medical and exchange students. Upon re-establishing the HMS Philadelphia, his major goal was not only to provide monetary scholarship support but to provide an opportunity for career development and placement for Greek and Hellenic-American Medical students. With this history, he takes to heart the mission of the society, encouraging health care professionals of Hellenic heritage to “foster, promote and support medical, research, educational and cultural programs” like the exchange program.
When Dr. Iliadis received the request for help from Dareilena, he took it to the HMS board, where it caught the attention of Assistant Secretary, Dr. Frances R. Zappalla, D.O., a pediatric cardiologist at Nemours Cardiac Center at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. Dr. Zappalla remembers, “Since Dareilena had an interest in pediatrics, I offered to contact her and arrange a rotation at my hospital.” Together, they determined that the best course of action would be a month a duPont’s pediatric subspecialty clinic in Philadelphia, where Dareilena would be staying with a student friend. Dareilena arrived at the end of March, and for the next 5 weeks, observed in the Cardiology, Gastroenterology, Neurology, Pulmonary, and Endocrinology Clinics. During that time, she had the opportunity to shadow physicians that encouraged discussion of the various cases. As part of their instruction, the doctors asked her questions so she would be able to determine appropriate diagnoses for various childhood conditions, a technique which she appreciated. During her time at the clinic, she developed a belief that that pediatric medicine must be viewed as a partnership between the doctor, the patient and his or her family, a realization she believes will be invaluable to her future medical career.
On May 21st, Dareilena went home to Greece, but her work is far from over. This summer, she will return to school, and will also fulfill volunteering obligations with the Non-Governmental Organization “Medecins du Monde”, an organization that provides support to doctors in Athens polyclinics and mobile medical units throughout Greece. Further proving her dedication, she plans to combine vacation with learning by assisting her cousin, a Cardiology resident at Kyparissia General Hospital.
Though it started out as an unanticipated experiment, the success of this inaugural exchange reaffirms Dr. Iliadis’ desire for the program to continue, and when possible, expand. When asked about their experience, both Dr. Zappalla and Dareilena are enthusiastic about its value. According to Dr. Zappalla, “I was as proud as any mother hearing the glowing comments and praises from my colleagues at the clinic…I would definitely encourage others to participate as a mentor in this program.” Dareilena shares, “Dr. Zappalla and all the members of the society gave me the best of memories. I feel blessed to have been around them, as a student and as a person. Apart from all the useful professional knowledge I gained, I also grew up, being away from Greek friends and family and learning to adjust in a new environment.”
One of the biggest lessons learned, she says, was the realization of how much she enjoys taking care of children. Building on her newfound discovery, she, along with other University of Athens students, is organizing a volunteer program called “Teddy Bear Hospital” that helps children aged 4-6 overcome their fears of doctors and hospitals in a playful way. So it appears that already, in this early stage of her medical career, Dareilena shares the Hellenic Medical Society of Philadelphia’s tenet of giving back to the community.