Dr. Evgeny Dyskin has learned that talent and confidence are great equalizers for trauma doctors who grew up in other countries.
"If you speak with an accent, sometimes elective patients in an office setting are apprehensive," said Dyskin, who grew up and got his early medical training in Russia. "It's normal. I understand it.
"Then I discovered when you see those same people in the emergency room, it's a different situation. Once they understand you know what you're talking about, all the superficial stuff goes away. They trust you immediately instead of asking, 'Where did you go to medical school?' 'What kind of accent is that?' It does not matter."
State Police Investigator Christopher Rodler got a taste of that logic first-hand.
Dyskin, 46, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in trauma care, spends most of his time handling complex cases at Erie County Medical Center. He is a partner with UBMD Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine and clinical assistant professor with the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Rodler is among patients thankful Dyskin was at ECMC on a September morning in 2016. The trooper arrived with a shattered left elbow after falling backward off a stool in his garage.
"I was very concerned," Rodler said. "I knew it was a significant injury. People were coming in to look at my X-rays and my arm and saying, 'Ooh, good luck with that.'
"I was very nervous because of what I do. I have three boys. I'm very athletic and play sports. I remember grabbing Dr. Dyskin's arm and telling him, 'Whatever, you need to do, do it. Please.' When he shook my hand, I felt an instant calm. He said, 'We're going to do everything we can for you.' "
Dyskin surgically placed eight plates and more than 30 screws into an unorthodox spot to save Rodler's elbow joint. Two surgeries followed through various stages of healing. Some of the plates were removed, others shifted. After gutting it out through intensive physical therapy, Rodler went back to work.
Dyskin called the approach to Rodler's care "an aggressive, unconventional" one.
The same can be said of his road to Buffalo.
He grew up in a small town outside Tula, about 100 miles south of Moscow in the then-Soviet Union. He went to Tver State Medical Academy – halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg – at age 16, then came back home to work in a community hospital after graduating in 1994. He went on to take advanced training in Austria and Israel before fellowships at the University at Albany pharmacy school, as well as the University at Buffalo and University of Minnesota medical schools.
He and his family have lived most of the past decade in Amherst. His wife, Anna Dyskina, is a registered nurse with Buffalo Hospice. The couple has two sons, Ilya, 22, a computer engineer with a degree from the University of Rochester, and Misha, 17, a senior at Williamsville East.
Q. How did you get into medical school so early?
That's the European system. There is no undergraduate education. You graduate from high school and boom, six years of medical school. Then you do your residency.
Residency is different than here, where it's very structured. Folks come here for five or six years, there's a program for them and they're being paid. They go to journal clubs and everything is exams and lectures. Down there, there was one year of mandatory education where I worked under somebody else's supervision. Then you learn as you grow, with other attending physicians. There are no mid-level providers. Only other physicians assist you during surgery. It's a lot of independence.
Q. What was medical school like?
Very intense. I was there during the time the Soviet Union collapsed. I was 19.
Q. You had to hold other jobs while you were in school?
Yes. All but the first six months of med school. I had a variety of jobs. First was a hospital that had a broken elevator. We were taking night calls and carrying patients from the ER to the floors. When socialism collapsed and capitalism started, I worked in a lot of private business. I was a night guard in a storage building. I also worked in the hospital doing things like LPNs do. I worked as a masseuse. I had to support myself although the government paid for medical school.
Q. How did you get to the U.S.?
I did a lot of traveling. I wanted to knock on every single door. I did a few internships in Salzberg, Austria. George Soros at a certain point had an open foundation and the whole idea was to help countries emerging from communism to develop their own professional fields. They held seminars in Salzberg. It was a competitive application. I went and did a couple of internships. I went to Israel, Tel Aviv University, in 2005 for six months. A while after that, I came to the U.S.
Tula and Albany were sister cities. Russia and Americans were still friends. Albany set up a program to educate people about the American medical system and they were looking for somebody to spend six weeks there and who could speak English. I was the only one in the region to do that. I was hired as a post-doctoral research fellow. I met a person who was building his own lab under the Albany College of Pharmacy. Shaker Mousa, a pharmacist and Egyptian native who did his Ph.D. at Ohio State, was running studies and came to Buffalo and UB for some of them.
Q. How did you learn English?
I started learning English when I was 29 and lived in Russia because I wanted to travel abroad and study. I started learning by myself, using textbooks. Some people think you have to be something special to learn a language. You will if you need it.
Q. Why did you want to come to the United States?
To seek better opportunities, use my abilities and give my children a better chance in life. Ask your predecessors why they came here. It's the same reasons I did.
My older son was 13 and younger one was 8 when they came here. It was tough. There was a language barrier. For the older one, it was more difficult to define himself. Things changed a lot when he went to college. The younger one, in six months he spoke English probably better than Russian.
I speak English better than Russian. Sometimes I spend time reading Russian books and watching Russian movies to keep up to date.
Q. What was the citizenship path like for you and your family?
I came here on a work visa and applied for a green card. We all had one. In five years, I applied for citizenship. We're now all U.S. citizens.
Q. Why choose orthopedic trauma as a subspecialty?
The complexity. The unpredictability. Because you face trauma, there's an infinite combination of injuries and problems that you really have to be able to solve on the fly. You should come up with creative solutions very quickly. The field is really wide, too, so it allows you to use your skills to the best level.
Q. You've liked Western New York enough to do some of your training here from 2009 to 2015, and return in 2016 after an adult reconstructive fellowship at the University of Minnesota. What drew you back and helped you decide to go into practice here?
First, it's the (UBMD) group, the working environment. The group wanted me to come back. When I was in Minnesota, every single week somebody in the group was calling me. I wanted to work in an academic environment, a big university, to do complex things. I really enjoy challenges in our specialty.
Q. What is a typical week like in your work life?
About 15 major cases, two days on call, two days of seeing patients in offices, including one day a week at the ECMC clinic. Once a month, I see patients at Buffalo General Medical Center. Once a month, I have an entire weekend of calls. My workdays tend to be 12, 14 hours.
Q. What do you enjoy doing during your time off?
We go out and enjoy food … traditional Buffalo. I enjoy sports. I do Olympic weightlifting at the Niagara Barbell Club. I love cross-country skiing. We go to Byrncliff for skate skiing, real cross-country skiing. We like Niagara Falls, Letchworth, local parks. I go swimming at LA Fitness.
Q. What are the most common cases you see in the ER?
A variety of fractures. Open fractures. Infections. Injuries from car accidents, falls, work. You have a lot of geriatric trauma and pelvic fractures. I recently wrote a book chapter with a fellowship member for an international book on fragility and fractures of the pelvis.
Q. In other parts of your practice?
It's often a re-do, if something falls apart, surgeries to reduce infection, (address) deformities.
Q. What's the most complex case you've had to deal with since returning to Buffalo?
A snow-related car accident case. There was a gentleman with multiple fractures of the leg. It was broken pretty much from the hip to the ankle. There were open fractures. There are ways to deal with that.
Q. Have you treated patients here who speak Russian? What is that like for them? For you?
Yes. They're very happy. Sometimes they're not in my focus of specialty but want someone to talk to, who can guide them. I'm happy to see them, as well. I'm very comfortable with them. I feel like I'm back home.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon