Plus, they hiked the mountains of Northeast Tennessee, experienced a theater play, and renewed their wedding vows.
Mikhail Sharkov and Alla Sharkova, Russian physicians visiting the region to work with the local medical community on ways to improve the health of their countrymen, wrapped up their three-week trip here last weekend. Before leaving the Tri-Cities for the long journey home, the doctors sat down with the Times-News to share some thoughts and reflection on their first visit to America.
“All things were a surprise for us,” Mihkail said. “We enjoyed every minute.”
Mihkail is chief director of the Vash Doktor Medical Center in Rybinsk, and Alla is medical treatment director at Vash Doktor. The two came to Kingsport at the invitation of Mary Cowden, the wife of a Kingsport physician who had traveled to Russia several months ago, and visited the doctors in their home there.
In Kingsport, Cowden opened her home to the physicians and arranged a schedule packed full of events to keep them occupied.
Mikhail said the agenda included visits to various medical facilities, health care clinics and businesses each Monday through Friday.
On the weekends, the doctors enjoyed outdoor activities, entertainment venues, and general leisure life in the mountains.
Their first weekend here, Cowden took the two hiking at Bays Mountain Park. They took in a play at Barter Theater, and on Sunday morning, the Russians renewed their wedding vows in a special ceremony at Shiloh Baptist Church.
The aim of their visit, which was privately funded and not government sponsored or sanctioned, was to see first hand how America’s health care system operates, and how Americans live, work and play.
The doctors visited Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center and Bristol Regional Medical Center, Johnson City Medical Center, the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University, Holston Medical Group, CareSpark, and HealthSouth Rehabilitation.
They also toured a wellness facility at Eastman Chemical Co. and heard about Eastman’s effort to keep employees healthy. And they visited Dobyns-Bennett High School and learned about the school’s health program.
The physicians said they were impressed by the region’s health care efforts, particularly its preventative measures. And coming from a rural area in Russia, the doctors took note of helicopter service used to transport patients from outlying areas to one of the local hospitals. They also toured the Edwards & Associates helicopter plant in Piney Flats.
On the light side, the physicians took a spin around the track at Bristol Motor Speedway, biked the Virginia Creeper Trail near Abingdon, visited the Carter Fold in Hiltons, Va., and toured Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.
“Our program was very full every minute,” Mihkail said.
He said he was impressed with how active folks are in the region. “Hiking, riding horses, bicycling, golf, tennis. It is very good that people here are active. They don’t just sit in front of the TV,” Mihkail said.
The doctors said they were impressed with the quality of the air in Kingsport — particularly since the city is home to major industries.
“I asked Mary, ‘Why is the air so clean, with Eastman here?’ It is because all the people want to keep their nature (clean),” Mikhail said.
“It is interesting for us to know how Americans live, work and rest,” Mikhail said. “The most outstanding thing here is, the people — they want to do their best for all people and their country,” he said.
Alla complimented the people she had met for being “intelligent, hospitable and very friendly.”
Asked if they wanted to point out any negatives they perceived of the American health care system, Alla cited the expense of care here.
“But,” Mikhail added, “as we understand it, it is good for all people — whether they have money or not — they all have the same quality of help.”
The main drawback, the doctors suggested, is for pregnant women in America. Alla said that in Russia, a pregnant woman stops working at 30 weeks gestation and remains off work until her baby is one year old. During that time, she receives government payments, allowing her to devote herself to the baby’s first full year of life.
In comparison, U.S. employers are not mandated to provide paid maternity leave to working mothers.
Mikhail and Alla said Russia’s social program for pregnant women and their newborns has been in place for years.
“The government pays her and she can have the opportunity to care for the child,” Alla said.
Regardless of the differences, Alla said the people of both countries seem to want many of the same things.
“We are from different sides of the globe, but it seems to us that our views are the same — our thinking is the same, and we must be together, our countries and our people. We must have more relations and co-existence for peace and for friendship,” she said.
Mikhail agreed. “All of us — we want to live, we want to work, we want to enjoy our planet. It is the same here. And we must help each other.”
Mikhail thanked Cowden for her hospitality, and said he and Alla would like to return for another visit to Kingsport one day.
Cowden said she enjoyed the opportunity.
“This has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life,” she said. “I have never enjoyed two people so enormously. I’ll treasure this relationship forever.”