Professor Mykola Ariaiev: Academician Zaporozhan has created a university system that can withstand any turbulence

The Departments of Pediatrics are among the oldest in Odessa National Medical University, they were opened in 1900. This year, they will be 120 years old. We have talked about the anniversary, scientific developments, plans and crisis turbulence with the head of the Department of Pediatrics #1, Doctor of Medical Sciences, Professor Mykola Ariaiev.

Mykola Leonidovych, this year Odessa National Medical University turns 120 years old. What does this date mean for you personally?

It is a very important anniversary in the life of the university and all those who have connected their lives with it. I am also among them: Odessa University is my Alma Mater. Time passes quickly. It seemed that 100 years had recently been celebrated, and already 120. This date is a confirmation of unceasing development while preserving age-old traditions.

Describe your path to the university. When did it start?

Since joining in 1967. I graduated in 1973, worked as a researcher at the research institute for three years, and since 1976 I have been working continuously for ONMedU. It’s been 44 years! Now I am the head of the Department of Pediatrics №1. It had different names in different years. When I came, it was called the Department of Faculty Hospital Therapy, and it was headed by Reznik Boris Yakovlevych, a prominent scientist. Before coming to the department, I saw myself as a surgeon, and even worked in this direction for a year, and after meeting Boris Yakovlevich, I chose pediatrics. There are many coincidences in the world, although necessity paves the way between many coincidences. And I’m glad that it happened. Academician Reznik was my research supervisor and teacher. It was an honor for me to become the head of the department after him. I have been in this position for 24 years.

What has changed during this time at the department?

A lot. The first and global – the emergence of the Internet as a way to obtain information. Information technology has radically changed medicine. Knowledge is updated very quickly. At the university we not only provide basic knowledge, but also learn to obtain new information. To be a high-class specialist, a doctor must constantly monitor new trends in their field. Previously, the main tool for this was a book, now – scientific articles in medical online publications.

And is there modern equipment at the department, do you use simulation technologies?

There is none at the department itself. We work on the basis of the children’s regional hospital and use all itheir equipment. And most importantly – we have an opportunity on the basis of a multidisciplinary medical institution to treat children with various pathologies and diseases, and to teach students the specialty “pediatrics”. This is a unique opportunity for a future doctor: from the student bench to be in the atmosphere of a medical institution, communicate with patients, observe various cases and learn from their teachers.

As for simulation technologies, we use several types of mannequins for training, including intensive care. On mannequins, students learn how and what to do in case of cardiac arrest, work out a sequence of actions. We now have “smart dolls” that gradually enter different states, for example, change the color of the skin, heart rate. You can listen to the heartbeat, put on a mask, you can practice the technology of syndrome management of the patient. I think that working out difficult situations on a mannequin is extremely important.

What are the main research areas at your department?

Scientific directions are constantly changing. We received two international grants and one grant from the Ministry of Health of Ukraine to identify risk factors for sudden death syndrome in children. We won a grant from the National Council for Science and Technology of Ukraine to develop new methods of isoimmunization therapy. When the world was struck by HIV, we studied the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. We had 2 grants: one from the Netherlands, the other from the United States. Together with obstetricians and gynecologists under the leadership of Valerii Mykolaiovych Zaporozhan we have been engaged in this area for five years. Then three more areas were singled out from this – what to do with sick children, how to fight the disease at the outpatient stage, how to manage such patients. These areas were funded by the Ministry of Health in the form of three consecutive grants.

Another topic that our department developed with Academician Zaporozhan is bioethics. We have created bioethics programs for medical universities, national textbooks on bioethics in Ukrainian, Russian and English. Under the direction of the Ministry of Health, our department has become a reference for teaching bioethics in all medical universities in the country.

Since 2003, with the permission of the Ministry, we have been conducting clinical trials of medicines for children. We were recognized as one of the best centers.

The past two years have been difficult for the university. The long conflict with the ministry actually deprived ONMedU of the budget for a year, students, state orders, and the staff were intimidated. How did you personally experience this conflict?

There was a break in continuity. I was sure that everything would return to normal and return to the old rails. Any turbulence and vortices are distracting. But what saves is that any system has a certain inertia of motion, so the catastrophe did not happen. Yes, the movement slowed down due to the conflict. Yes, there are lost benefits for the university, but the destruction did not happen significantly. The merit of Valerii Mykolaiovych is that he created such a system that withstood even this insane pressure. And I was convinced once again that revolutions are bad, we must strive for evolution.

The situation was complicated by the fact that not only the ministry but also several activists opposed the university. There was a powerful anti-campaign in the media…

I am increasingly convinced that people forget the discoverers. At one time, our university was the first to teach in English. Nobody believed that it would succeed, and now all universities teach in English. I was then the vice-rector for international work, it was within my competence, and we developed this matter by the order of Valerii Mykolaiovych. The Department of Pediatrics №1, by the way, was a reference one for teaching in English. Our university has always been in the first place in terms of the number of grants, which is the recognition of international medical organizations and the medical community.

We have many Honorary Doctors, including Nobel Laureates. Many of them were present at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the university. I will name only one name – Christian Barnard! The first heart transplant winner, Nobel laureate. He came to our university to give lectures four times, and in Ukraine – only to us.

We were the first to deal with the topic of family medicine. We had five projects with Dutch partners. The first department of family medicine in Ukraine opened in our country. In the electronic library – 5800 titles of textbooks and manuals. And at the insistence of Valerii Mykolaiovych such library was created.

The last argument. Our main “product” is students. The number of students has more than doubled. Therefore, I would like to remind all those who criticize us, who say that ONMedU under the leadership of Academician Zaporozhan was an average university: the main thing is to make measurements and compare, subjectivism is not scientific in its basis.

Tell us about the plans of the department for the academic year.

It is possible that distance learning will continue. We are ready for this scenario. And although patient-based learning should be an axiom, distance learning has its advantages. The key is to monitor performance and feedback to release like-minded and professional physicians.

From this year we will again be engaged in postgraduate training of doctors. We are currently developing programs, including those for distance learning. This year, it is planned to develop topics on endocrinological pathology and mandatory publications on this issue in the international journals Web of Science and Scopus.