This fall, as we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our 20-21 program year students coming in January, we are taking extra time to check in on our alumni and hear more about their life after the program.
The following alum is a shining example of the influence cultural exchange has on an exchange student. This alum found her voice and her independence. It is this confidence that would drive her and her work ethic, leading to her successes and a passion to use her knowledge and better the field of medical law for all.
Meet Valentina Opancina from Serbia. She was in the first generation of FLEX (ASYMLE) Serbian and Montenegrin Programs in 2006-2007. She was placed in Rochester, Washington.
What are you currently doing?
I am a Medical Doctor, an attending Radiologist at the University Hospital, Clinical Center Kragujevac. I also work as a Teaching and Research Assistant at the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Kragujevac.
My high school experience included two schools, Serbian and American. I have graduated at the First Kragujevac Gymnasium as Valedictorian Student with the highest GPA in 2008. Before that, I completed my junior high school year at Rochester High School in Rochester, Washington, USA.
Can you tell me about your higher education and degrees?
I have graduated from the Faculty of Medical Sciences, at the University of Kragujevac in July 2014. I was first in my class and with the highest GPA (Summa Cum Laude).
By the Serbian Medical Society, I was awarded as Best Graduated Medical Doctor in Serbia in 2015.
Following my graduation, I enrolled, in parallel, in three different programs: doctoral studies, radiology residency, and law school.
I have completed my residency in radiology and already became a radiologist. At the moment, I am a Ph.D. Candidate with my thesis in the field of interventional radiology. Its main focus is on patients who experience rupture of cerebral aneurysms and developed certain complications after the endovascular treatment. I have already published the paper from my thesis in the internationally recognized journal. It is indexed in the Medline basis. I expect to defend my thesis in the near future.
Last, but not least is law school. I am completing a Bachelor’s degree and have only a few exams left. After I complete this, my main goal is to incorporate the knowledge of legal studies into medicine. This is a very new but very important field: medical law and/or legal medicine. My goal is to make innovations in this field that would be helpful not only for patients but also for all the health workers.
I have already started doing something in this field by working on research. My research is about the responsibility of doctors and medical technicians for the radiation doses that patients undergo during interventional radiology procedures and especially regarding the process of informed consent that patients must give before these types of procedures. Also, through a non-profit organization that gives legal advice in the field of medicine, I am helping patients.
I volunteer whenever I have free time. I give free ultrasound check-ups for people who do not have scheduled doctor appointments or are without insurance. All of this is my way to give back to the community.
What are some activities or projects you have done as an active alumna of the program?
I have done various projects after my return from the United States.
Together with my ASMYLE fellows, I organized the project “Share a Smile” for children with disabilities. The project goal was to integrate children with disabilities into society. It lasted several months and included excursions and visits. We went to a theater, a zoo, and restaurants. We took a trip to the capital city Belgrade, and for many of them, that was their first visit in their life.
I was also part of the project Peer2Peer, which was organized by American Councils in Serbia and NGO Fractal. This project included a visit of 5 Serbian students to Kosovo in December 2007. I will say this was very brave at the moment given the political situation at that time.
All of the students from Serbia were ASMYLE alumni. We had a chance to meet and talk with students our age in Kosovo, both Albanians and Serbians. We talked with them about our experience in the USA and about the importance of intercultural understanding and acceptance.
After I graduated from the Faculty of medicine, I was unemployed for almost 4 years. During this time, I volunteered at the hospital and started my residency through a special “volunteer residency” program.
I did not spend a day at home, doing nothing. I used this time to help at the hospital and earn my three degrees.
Eventually, my effort was recognized. In December 2018, I got a job at the Clinical Center Kragujevac, which was awarded to me by the President of the Republic of Serbia himself!
What are your plans for the future?
In the future, I plan on working as a radiologist with the main focus in neuroradiology. A few weeks ago, I received an email from the European Society of Radiology. It said I was selected for the Visiting Scholarship in the field of Neuroradiology, in Milan, Italy. It is a prestigious scholarship since it has only 36 holders from all of Europe, Brazil, and China. I am the only one selected from Serbia for this year and I hope to learn some new things. I want to come back to Serbia with more experience which will be beneficial for my patients.
There will be plenty more research in my future. At my university, I want to continue my work there, since I enjoy teaching students. I plan to incorporate the law more into medicine, to educate my colleagues and patients in this field.
How did your exchange year with World Link contribute to your success as an alum?
I think that the year I spent in the USA, thanks to World Link, had the largest impact on me as a person. Some would say that it is normal to change during one year, but I grew up and became an improved version of myself.
When I left Serbia to go to the USA, I was just a girl who had never traveled by plane, who never stayed longer than 10 days apart from her family.
The United States of America taught me the importance of leadership and setting an example for others. I became independent, how to stand up for myself and to fight for things that are important, not only for me but for society in general.
I noticed people my age are afraid to speak up, to ask the questions, to change something. For me, it is a part of my personality that was hidden somewhere before my exchange year.
During my high school year in the USA, I was part of several school clubs, such as FFA, Honor Society Club, and Golf Club. After school, I volunteered very often and saw the change we can make individually. I completed more than 100 hours of volunteering. Through this achievement, I won The President Volunteer Service Award from the White House, USA. I won the Bronze award and certificate from the President of the USA at the time, George Bush. I also received the Certificate from USA Freedom Corps and Corporation for National and Community Service. These awards gave me more motivation to continue with my community service in Serbia, which I am still doing, right now mostly in my field as a doctor.
Anything else you would like to add?
To end, I have two more achievements to include:
1.) After the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in Serbia, I was working in the on-call radiology “corona” team for diagnostics. At that time, our state was in the lockdown.
Right before the start of the epidemic, our Faculty got an exchange student from Italy. She spent 6 months in Serbia and this reminded me of my time as an exchange student. As FLEX (ASMYLE) alumna, I gave the best of myself to help her in those difficult times, even if it was not easy due to my job, which was very stressful.
We had online classes during the lockdown. After the lockdown was over I introduced her to students her age at the Faculty. I arranged a city tour. I did this to make her exchange experience better. This was my homage to all the nice people in the USA who made my stay better.
2.) I started getting recognition in the research field and this is something I am very proud of. My paper was awarded in the category of “young radiologists” and I presented it at the European Congress of Radiology this year. This was a first for radiologists at the University of Kragujevac.
At 30 years old, I am the youngest attending radiologist since the beginning of our institution. This only gives me a bigger responsibility as I feel like I am representing the younger generation of doctors. I am representing women in science which are usually not in the frontlines.
I encourage everyone to follow their dreams, to fight for them, and to never give up, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time.
Thank you, Valentina, for sharing your achievements with us. We are inspired by your drive, achievements, and successes. You are a role model to those in your field and to all members of the World Link family.
Continue to be inspired by our alumni by visiting our Alumni Highlights page!