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Healing Hands

After leaving her native Armenia, nursing student Zara Ulikhanyan looks to return someday to promote change in eastern-European hospitals.

Zara Ulikhanyan

Zara Ulikhanyan | Photo by Bradley Slade

Ask Zara Ulikhanyan, ’05, what she likes most about America and she’s quick to answer—predictability.

Having spent the first seven years of her life in Moscow, Russia, and then the next 17 in Yerevan, Armenia, uncertainty is something that the 28-year-old BYU nursing student grew accustomed to. For one, the country where Ulikhanyan was born—the USSR—dissolved amidst political turmoil. With the demise of communism, electricity was sporadic. Running hot water was a rare commodity. And bread came only if her family had a ration coupon.

“I know that I will wake up tomorrow and I can turn on the light, and it will work. There will be light; there will be electricity. I’ll go to Macey’s, and they will have my favorite cereal,” Ulikhanyan says in her eastern-European accent, smiling as she sits in her Provo apartment. “I will go to work, and after two weeks, I will get paid.”

After completing a mission to London, England, Ulikhanyan left Armenia again in 2000 to join her sister, Carine, at BYU to study nursing. As a teenager Ulikhanyan worked as a registered nurse in Armenia and witnessed firsthand the uncertain future patients faced. Armenian hospitals lacked adequate sanitation—patients were just as likely to get worse as they were to improve. Now Ulikhanyan dreams of bringing her prized American predictability to the hospitals in her homeland.

“After my mission, I decided I want to make a difference in Armenia,” she says. “I have lots of ideas about bringing the Western level of nursing care to Armenia. I want to form ties between Armenian and American hospitals, to educate Armenian nurses and to bring them to a higher level.”

With the help of nursing professor Lynn Clark Callister, ’64, Ulikhanyan received a grant through the Office of Research and Creative Activities to travel back to Armenia for three weeks this August. In conjunction with Callister, a Fulbright scholar who is doing similar research in Russia and Ukraine, Ulikhanyan will interview childbearing women at the Women’s Wellness Center (WWC) in Erebuni to evaluate the quality of their care. The WWC is a U.S.-based organization that seeks to raise awareness of women’s health issues in developing countries. Through her research, Ulikhanyan hopes to promote change in European hospital standards.

“Zara is an amazing young woman who has much to contribute to nursing,” Callister says. “She is a fine clinician.”

In addition to teaching Armenian and Russian to mission presidents at the MTC and translating at general conferences, Ulikhanyan does clinical work at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. After receiving her degree, she would like to work in an operating room in the United States. “My passion is the OR. I love that because it’s fast paced,” Ulikhanyan says. “I love to see the results.”

Ulikhanyan plans to go back to Armenia in the future, but she knows for now that the road there runs through America.

“It always brings tears to my eyes when I talk about America because while it is very simple to say it’s a country where your dreams come true—I know everyone says that—it’s true,” she insists. “For me, America is where my dreams have come true.”