A Glimpse into the Exciting Life of an OMI Observer in Salzburg

Jun 25, 2024

Eager to learn, friendly, and quick to smile are some of the traits that describe Dr. Hovhannes Vardevanyan best. He is one of the OMI observers this year who spent a month learning from top Austrian experts in their respective medical fields. Dr. Vardevanyan completed his observership at the Department of Radiology at the General Hospital Salzburg.

The young radiologist from Armenia is not only an OMI Alumnus, but he has also participated in two observership programs at the General Hospital of Salzburg (SALK)! The first of these was in 2016 and the second one just took place this spring.

In a long and emotional letter, Dr. Vardevanyan vividly depicts his experiences during his two observerships as well as the differences he noticed upon returning to the Radiology Department at the SALK after eight years.

You can read his full letter and get a glimpse into his day-to-day life as an observer through his pictures below:

Dear Prof. Aulitzky and Ms. Faschang,

I am writing to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity to participate and complete the OMI observership in radiology in Salzburg, Austria. This is my second visit to the General Hospital of Salzburg, and I am immensely grateful for the continuous support and provided guidance throughout this enriching experience.


Armenia is a developing country, with specific aspects that are quite lagging behind and education is one of them. Our professional medical training programs are old, and don’t fully match the contemporary world criteria. The residency program in Armenia for radiology is only two years, which puts our residents in a position where they lack at least another three years of professional training. Another downside is the fact that our radiology residents do not get a chance to feel their importance in the clinical setting by actually reading the exams.


Coming from a system with multiple drawbacks, the OMI has been the platform that helped me to gain the much-needed knowledge that was lacking from my residency. My first observership at the SALK was in October 2016, which, for me, was a dream that became reality. I learnt about the routine workflow of a big radiology department. Under Prof. Forstner’s supervision, I learnt about the structural and pathological changes seen in abdominal and pelvic organs during different oncological diseases. I would like to especially mention prostate and uterine cervix cancer diagnosis by using the latest protocols on high-magnetic field MRIs. I was also involved in multimodal imaging by using CT and PET/CT. Another very important and innovative field for me was the interventional procedures performed by radiologists. Moreover, I had an opportunity to take part in tumor board discussions, which were held quite often.


Much time has passed from 2016, and I have been actively practicing radiology in my homeland Armenia. Starting from residency, I have been working in the Armenian American Wellness Center, where I started as a young trainee and where I later became the department head. I also work in another institution, Wigmore Hospital, where I also have a supervisory role, with a heavy load of clinical cases. By having a busy routine work, you don’t have time to learn something new, and more importantly, to question the standards of what you do.


My second observership became a reality in February 2024. This was another very much desired experience, which was generously organized by the OMI. During my last observership I had a totally different experience. I thought that being back in the same department where I was a trainee eight years ago would make me feel like time had not really passed. But I was wrong, time indeed had passed, and much had changed. My friends from SALK who are my age, that were in their final years of residency in 2016, became top class experts at their work. Now, they are the ones who guide the residents, answer their questions, and provide crucial support for them. I was speechless to see how composed and advanced my colleagues had become in all radiological modalities, whereas in Armenia we excel only on one modality.


I haven’t been actively engaged in practicing my knowledge in MRI techniques and my latest observership in the Department of Radiology at the SALK was the rejuvenation of my MRI skills. Under the direct guidance of Prof. Rosemarie Forstner, who is one of the most renowned radiologists in Europe and a world-famous distinguished professor of abdominal and pelvic imaging, my second observership started. Her authored books are used worldwide to teach visceral radiology. Having Prof. Forstner as my mentor was fundamental for my educational process. Prof. Forstner is a true professional and educator who embodies a unique blend of clinical expertise, teaching proficiency, mentorship skills, and advocacy efforts. She encourages young colleagues to apply theoretical knowledge to practical clinical cases, fostering a deeper understanding of complicated medical education. She provided supportive and individualized guidance, nurturing the professional and personal growth of everyone under her mentorship.


With direct guidance of Prof. Forstner, we prepared an interesting case report, which was about a patient who was initially diagnosed with autoimmune pancreatitis, with both pathology and imaging, but further down the clinical presentation, the patient’s condition did not get better with treatment, and by CT and MRI imaging, cancer was suspected. There were important aspects to convey, most importantly the assessment criteria for pancreatic cancer evaluation, with CT and MR. By the end of the observership, the article was submitted for publication.


I want to underline an important notion about proper radiological thinking, which was thoroughly taught to me by Prof. Forstner. The systematic approach to all cases is an important factor that allows you to make a right diagnosis. With Prof. Forstner’s help, I made myself an algorithm for case solving. I want to thank Prof. Forstner, who has been like a mother to me, with her essential advice and guidance, throughout my stay in Salzburg.


The Department of Radiology openly welcomed me throughout my entire observership. I received an internal login and password to the imaging program and an official email address at the SALK.AT platform. I really felt like a true team member of the whole team. For that, I must thank the radiology team and the chief of the Radiology Department, Prof. Klaus Hergan. His supportive attitude towards young colleagues and professionalism will always be a lifetime example for me. The collegiality and teamwork that was present in the Radiology Department was so evident that I noticed it from the very first day. Everyone was always ready to back up their colleagues. I must state that this supportive attitude stemmed from Prof. Hergan, who never emphasized his superiority or his role as the Chief. Moreover, he always demonstrated a willingness to collaborate, actively engaging in mentoring sessions whenever colleagues had challenging cases. I want to reiterate again that Prof Hergan’s collegiality and professionalism will be a guideline for me in the future.


My observership was also full of other activities, particularly cultural events, such as reginal travel, the exploration of local nature, and sightseeing in other cities in the Alps. Every Thursday, we enjoyed amazing concerts at Schloss Arenberg by visiting musicians from the Mozarteum University, with marvelous programs of Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, and more.


I would also like to thank my colleague and fellow trainee at the General Hospital of Salzburg: Dr. Agon Rrusta from Kosovo. We became good friends, who traveled a lot together.


Last but not least, I want to thank the lovely OMI staff at my beloved Schloss Arenberg, where we became good friends who offered each other support and understanding, and we created a lot of nice memories.


Thank you once again Prof. Aulitzky, Ms. Faschang, and everyone at OMI for giving me this amazing chance to learn and become a better doctor. The observership helped me to make connections and friends, who will help me throughout my carrier to stand out in my beloved professional field. As an alumnus of the OMI program, I will do my best for the prosperity of my country!


With best regards and sincerely yours,

Hovhannes Vardevanyan

OMI Alumnus from Armenia