YEREVAN, Armenia – On May 12, Dr. Ara Tekian received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor presented by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO). Dr. Tekian was instrumental in establishing the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) graduate program in public health in 1995 and remains engaged with the AUA Gerald and Patricia Turpanjian School of Public Health by teaching the Training of Trainers course to each cohort.
Dr. Tekian is currently a professor at the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where he also serves as Director of International Affairs at the Department of Medical Education (DME) and the Associate Dean for the Office of International Education.
The Ellis Island Medal of Honor recognizes individuals who have made it their goal to share their wealth of knowledge, courage, compassion and unique talents with those less fortunate. Dr. Tekian is a brilliant example from the Armenian Diaspora of how educators can foster an environment where students benefit from learning alongside others with diverse backgrounds and lead them to become devoted professionals: “When I moved to the U.S., I knew that I wanted to do everything I could to help the Lebanese and Armenian communities that I joined here in America. When you have a shared history with people, and when you are an immigrant yourself, you have a very strong desire to help your people.” Dr. Tekian told UIC.
Dr. Tekian was born in Lebanon, and in 1981, he received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the American University of Beirut (AUB). Upon completing a master’s degree in health professions education from UIC in 1983, he returned to the Middle East and became the founding director of the medical education department at King Saud University College of Medicine in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His active role in consulting for the World Health Organization and the Ministries of Health and Education further proves his dedication in preparing students to provide adequate care to their patients. Though he has consulted in more than 45 countries and helped establish more than a dozen medical education departments or centers, Dr. Tekian’s ties to the AUA Gerald and Patricia Turpanjian School of Public Health have deep roots and have always stood out as being fundamental and significant.
“I was inspired to contribute to Armenia after the earthquake of 1988. On the cusp of Armenia’s break from the Soviet Union, hospitals were especially in poor shape, with electricity and equipment being very scarce. At that time, I was invited by Louise Simone to survey and initiate training programs at the then Mikaelyan General Surgery Hospital. Specifically, Louise Simone had invested with AGBU to open two fully equipped operating rooms for plastic and reconstructive surgery that would serve the earthquake victims. I was there to oversee that the quality of nursing care was at an acceptable standard and that all necessary protocols were being followed during surgery” Dr. Tekian recalls.
It was this experience that brought Dr. Tekian to the idea of raising medical standards by changing the culture and training incoming health professional, scholars and educators to strive for excellence. He later became part of the planning team led by Dr. Haroutune K. Armenian, the AUA President Emeritus and Trustee, and including Drs. Myron Allukian, Avedis Donabedian, Dorothy Donabedian, Kim Hekimian, Mihran Nazaretyan, Krikor Soghikian, and Michael Thompson who were instrumental in founding the program at AUA.
The intensive course he continues to teach is called Training of Trainers and is geared toward ensuring that health professionals in Armenia have the proper assessment, analytical, presentation, communication skills, as well as could develop training modules for health professionals. “As students complete their formal education and go on to be professionals they should be both competent and effective leaders. This is the culture we are trying to instill,” he said.
In 2016, Dr. Tekian became a Pillar of AUA. “I made the decision to become a Pillar because I believe in the University’s leadership and their vision for the future. Giving a student a chance for a brighter future is a wise investment and that is the main reason for becoming one of the 100 pillars,” he noted. AUA is proud to have Dr. Tekian among its program founders, faculty, and devoted pillars who support the University’s students in a number of invaluable ways. Moreover, it is community leaders like Dr. Tekian who share their success and experience with the University’s broader community that make AUA among the leading higher education institutions in Armenia.
Among his many accolades, Dr. Tekian is a recipient of the Association for the Study of Medical Education Gold Medal Award (2012), the lifetime achievement award from the Armenian American Medical Society (2014), and, in 2015, he was named Faculty Member of the Year by the UIC Department of Medical Education. Immediately following his receipt of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Dr. Tekian also received the American Educational Research Association (AERA) 2017 Distinguished Career Award. “The greatest satisfaction a professional could get is to be recognized by his own peers. I was delighted to be in the ranks of highly successful and world-famous scholars in education. Their confirmation about the quality of my scholarship and my contribution to the field of health professions education is the best testimony and encouragement one could ever get.” Dr. Tekian noted.