— How did you become a doctor?
— I am from a simple, family of modest means: my father was a carpenter, my mother a housewife. And I lost them, I’m afraid, very young: at 19.
I became a doctor, you could say, quite by chance: For four years I was studying something different at the University of Wisconsin. I was studying biochemistry, and was interested in genetics, or rather its application in medicine. I was thinking about going into research.
Robert Young is the Director of the Centre for Family Medicine, and the leading Family Physician (General Practitioner) of the private Moscow clinic GMS. Professor of Medicine.
Born 69 years ago in California (USA). Studied biochemistry at Wisconsin State University (USA). In 1974 graduated from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University in the Bronx, NYC. Spent several years specializing in emergency medicine. Spent 18 years as researcher and lecturer at Kentucky State University (USA), where he attained his professorship. As well as emergency medicine, he specialized in paediatrics and family medicine.
Fellow of American College of Emergency Physicians, ACEP in the USA.
In 1998 headed the medical practice of the Moscow branch of a group of American clinics.
Has run the Family Medicine Centre at the GMS Clinic Medical and Diagnostics Centre in Moscow since it was established (2008).
— And then you were teaching a lot yourself…
— Yes. I was practising for a few years, in particular in emergency medicine, acute care. It is not quite the same as being an emergency doctor in Russia. It is a much wider area of activity. And it is nothing like what you see in the popular American TV series “ER”.
— What is “family medicine” to you?
— It is a systematic approach to healthcare for the whole family. A family doctor can investigate genetic conditions, the interrelation between illness and a person’s way of life and social conditions, ensure the prevention of the development of potential diseases. It is not just like being a GP who carries out the initial examination and refers you to a specialist. He should be specialist himself in many areas: with a grasp of ophthalmology, paediatrics, gynaecology, resuscitation... Able to carry out examinations himself at a clinic with the latest equipment. He only refers patients to a specialist in their field when the diagnosis made by him requires it.
— What was it that made an American professor want to come to Moscow?
— In 1996, a certain American medical organization which was collaborating with clinics in Eastern Europe suggested I go to Warsaw and do some work there. I went to Moscow a few times, where my employers had their biggest clinic. And after two years they asked me to head the medical practice side here. Since then, I live in what is, in my opinion, a very beautiful city: Moscow.
— In the US, Russian Doctors’ diplomas aren’t officially recognised. Was your diploma recognised in Russia?
— I had to sit some exams. It’s true that they weren’t as tough as the ones your doctors have to sit in America.
GMS Clinic Moscow is a multidisciplinary medical and diagnostics centre, and private clinic, forming part of the Global Medical System Clinics and Hospitals Group. It has been operating in Moscow since 2008.
The medical service at GMS Clinic is based on western and Russian clinical practice guidelines and standards of evidence-based medicine. This is an approach to medical practice where the decision on the application of preventative, diagnostic, and curative measures is taken only on the evidence that it is safe and necessary.
— And are there a lot of American doctors in Russia?
— I know two. A woman originally from Russia who emigrated whilst still young, received her training there, and who is now back again. And the second is as much of a long-term resident as I am. A doctor from the US National Space Agency, NASA. He has been working in Star City now for fifteen or twenty years.
— An indiscreet question: how does your salary in Moscow compare with what you were earning in the US?
— It is lower here. But money has never been the decisive factor for me.
— Judging by everything, you took to living in Moscow some time ago. No doubt you have some favourite places here?
— Yes, of course. “The Apothecaries’” botanical gardens on Prospekt Mira. Some time ago, I used to work not far from there. It was a jungle, total neglect: nobody had done any “gardening” there for many years. Then they cleaned it all up, replanted some things, planted some new things. Now it is a very beautiful place. I am simply in love with it.
— In your opinion as a long-term resident of Moscow: has the city changed drastically over the last twenty years?
— A lot has changed. Although, when you live here all the time, you don’t notice it as much. I remember when I arrived for the first time… In Moscow then it was very difficult to buy basic food, basic things. I had to bring a lot of things from the US, right down to a toothbrush. But now you can live a normal life here, especially if you know how to go about it.
— You know, that’s for sure. But what would you advise a compatriot who had decided to follow in your footsteps and come here to work?
— For one thing, there’s no point believing what they say in the West about Moscow, about Russia, or about Russian people. For the most part it isn’t true. You have to come here with an open heart. Calmly have a look around you, and start to form your own opinion. At first, it is quite possible that you will have to be somewhat self-sufficient, gradually surrounding yourself with the people who are going to help you. It may be that in the early days it is tough. In my experience, it usually takes six months to find your feet in Moscow.
— That was enough for you?
— The first time I arrived I already felt in my element. Moscow of the 90s reminded me of somewhere in between the Wild West and New York in the sixties, the time of my youth. Initially there was a problem with the language but the people around were generous with their time and attention, and they helped me. I never felt lost. In Moscow, I have found, I’d say, the best friends out of my whole life.
— Who are these friends?
— Russians, on the whole. On my birthday I took a short trip to a place where there is no internet. It was really good! When I got back, I discovered that I had been sent 170 greetings, and 95 percent of them were from Russian friends.
— But the mentalities, the culture, there are differences all the same…
— Of course, there are differences. Russians, for example, worry so much more about their families: they are very attached to them. When I was growing up, we still had strong family ties, too. But things have changed. But in Russia the culture continues to be oriented towards the family. I think that is wonderful.
— I have heard that your hobby is history. What kind of history?
— First and foremost, the history of medicine. I find it interesting to find out, to understand, how we got to where we are now, who the people who founded medicine were. I am also interested in the history of my country: I have gone into it quite a lot, and the history of Russia about which I am now reading a lot. And also the history of jazz, and diving…
— I adore diving. There was a time when I nearly gave up medicine because of diving. If there is something that Moscow lacks for me, it’s the sea. I truly love the sea! I lived for a few years in Florida, by the ocean. It was like being in paradise!
— You can go to the sea on holiday…
— Talking of which, do you visit home much?
— I do. But I find it boring there. Yes, I lived in the USA for almost half a century. I see those who are dear to me. But I don’t want to stay there. If I could go back in time, I would come here sooner.
— And how do you spend your free time here?
— Catching up on sleep. (Laughs.) I meet up with friends. I go to their dachas. But I don’t like being away from the clinic for long. After three or four days I start to fret about how things are going there, and I have to go back!
— They say that Moscow is an expensive city for foreigners…
— The apartment I rent is more expensive than in New York. But that depends on the area. I have a rule: live close to the clinic. I am alone, I don’t have any family. I don’t have a car either. I haven’t sat behind a wheel for twenty years. But then again, I am spared a lot of unnecessary problems: parking, filling up… When I worked at the clinic’s first location in Maryina Roshcha, I rented somewhere there. Now, I live right here, in Smolenskaya, five minutes’ walk from the clinic.
— As we’ve just mentioned food, what kind of cuisine does an American professor in Moscow prefer?
— All different kinds. Including Russian. Pretty much the only dish from Russian cuisine which I don’t like is the one people serve for New Year: fish in aspic.
— In your view is living in the Russian capital dangerous?
— Moscow is possibly one of the safest cities I have lived in. I feel safer here than in, let’s say, New York. I wouldn’t say there’s no crime in Moscow. But you don’t get wild, unprovoked attacks on the street like in America. There, someone you don’t know can attack you unexpectedly. Someone coming out and shooting passers-by: that happens quite a lot.
— Do you think of yourself as a successful person?
— I do. Have I done everything in my life that I could? I hope so. Has everything worked out for me? No doubt at all. I have done, and do, everything which is in my power to do. I have had successful times in the past, and they are continuing now. Overall, I am happy.
— Are your plans to be in Moscow in the future?
— I am thinking of staying here until the end of my days. That’s what my plans are.