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Future Neurologist Rusudani Goletiani, MD Plans to Return to Her Native Republic of Georgia

Article In Brief

Growing up in the Republic of Georgia, surrounded by a family of doctors, Dr. Rusudani Goletiani always knew that she wanted to make a difference in people's lives. She went on to medical school and after seeing the power of an injection of neostigmine in a myasthenia gravis patient, she knew neurology was her calling. Soon she will begin her residency at the University of North Carolina.

Lessons on neurology came early for Rusudani Goletiani, MD. As a child growing up in a family of doctors—her father is a neurologist, her uncle a cardiologist, and the list goes on—the dinner table was a revolving Grand Rounds. The elders would share stories of their patients and the complexities of their symptoms and how they ended up healing them.

Dr. Goletiani was always certain she would be either a teacher or a doctor. She was born and raised and schooled in the Republic of Georgia. In childhood, she would line up her dolls and offer a lesson and then provide doctoring to anyone who needed care. Her father was a good role model for this nurturing, and she recalls many times when he took care of sick people who had no money to pay him. He would refuse what little they had. She would often see cakes, cheese, and wood delivered to their home, and one time two lambs were left at the door.

“My father would meet people in the street, and they smiled and were so happy to see him. He made such a big difference in their lives, and if I could do that it would touch my heart.”

In her country, students go right from high school into medical school. Her father thought that the demands of medicine were too difficult for women and suggested during her sophomore year of high school that maybe she ought to study languages. She stuck to her dream, however. In her senior year she took tests to get into medical school, and she was accepted into Tbilisi State Medical University. Her father eventually told her mother, an artist, that “Rusudani could handle this,” meaning medicine. And she did.

During medical school, she traveled to Poland for her clinical rotation. One of the first patients she saw was a woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 19 who was now in her mid-40s and had five children. She had not had a relapse in years because of the medications that were available to her.

“I saw that her disease did not stop her from enjoying her life, and that this was something I want to bring to my patients,” Dr. Goletiani said. She met a doctor during her time in Poland who said that she had done part of her clinical rotation in the United States.

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“After getting the IM injection of neostigmine, her muscle strength improved dramatically right in front of our eyes. At that very moment when I saw this victory of medicine over ruin and despair, did I firmly decide to become a neurologist, striving to preserve my patients identity and self-worth, advocating for the improvement of their quality of life.”—DR. RUSUDANI GOLETIANI

In her first year of medical school, she begged her father to join him at an international medical conference on headache. She listened to all the advances that had yet to come to her country. She knew that training in the US had to be part of her plan.

A year later, Dr. Goletiani met a young woman unable to hold her head up or carry out a simple task like combing her hair. She was depressed and wanted to quit her job. The young medical student had read about myasthenia gravis, “but seeing her was completely different,” she wrote in her personal essay for her residency application. “After getting the IM injection of neostigmine, her muscle strength improved dramatically right in front of our eyes. At that very moment when I saw this victory of medicine over ruin and despair, did I firmly decide to become a neurologist, striving to preserve my patient's identity and self-worth, advocating for the improvement of their quality of life.”

Last year, COVID restrictions led her to start a neurology residency in her city. She spent the year taking care of COVID patients.

Dr. Goletiani consulted a cousin doing a residency in the US, who gave her sage advice: Look for programs that are proud of their students. At the top of her list was the University of North Carolina, where she matched.

It is a bittersweet time to leave her country, she said. She is devastated by the events in Ukraine and recalls stories her mother told her about life when she was born. In 1992 to 1993, a war was happening on Georgian territory, and devastation and fear became the norm. Warm water and electricity were uncertain. People had to work three times harder to take care of their families.

Dr. Goletiani was born in 1994. In 2008, Russia invaded her country again. She and her family, including her younger brother, were in the small city of Bakuriani to spend a few quiet weeks before school. They arrived on August 7 and the next day they watched military vehicles, including tanks, line the streets. They packed up and headed down an alternative route out of town. The war lasted only five days because of help from European and American allies. To this day, she said, Russia snips away at the border villages to expand the occupied territory. She said that they have control of 20 percent of their country.

On a Zoom call a day after she opened an email to find that she matched to University of North Carolina, the young woman wore a blue and yellow pin in solidarity for the Ukrainian people. She is nervous about what could happen again to her country if Ukraine falls. Still, she knows that she will be in the perfect place to learn neurology and practice her skills.

Whenever she has doubts, she remembers her mother's grandfather, who wanted nothing more than to become a physician but did not come from a family with money or power. He passed all the exams but was refused a seat in a medical school in Kyiv, Ukraine.

He did go on to another career. He was among the first people in the country to have been admitted to and later graduated from the first national university in Georgia. He became a historian. “Become a neurologist,” he told his son, and the message was stitched into the family's story. “When you grow old you become less valuable. But neurology is different. It will be with you for life.”

Dr. Goletiani nods her head and smiles. She already understands this advice. She plans to return to her country after residency and give back to her community.