Creating a vision across 2 continents

By By Veronica Pineda

By Veronica Pineda

Even a seemingly successful career couldn’t keep one man from leaving his homeland.

In Ethiopia, Yohannes Dagne worked as a full-time ophthalmologist in a government hospital. He also worked at a private practice during the evenings and at a seasonal outreach clinic dealing with medical and surgical problems of the eye. Even with his prominent title and rewarding work, he wanted something better for his family.

“The payment there is not that great,” Dagne said.

Now a surgical technician in the Moran Eye Center, Dagne’s dream hasn’t necessarily come to fruition, but he eventually found a new way to improve the world he left behind.

Dagne said he had always dreamed about the United States for the chance to have an improved economic opportunity, higher education and a better future for his two children. About 75 percent of the population in Ethiopia lives in poverty and nearly half the population is illiterate because of high social and economic standards that are required to access the universities, according to the Central Intelligence Agency factbook.

In 2003, Dagne applied for the diversity visa lottery, a U.S. immigration program that annually grants 50,000 applicants worldwide the chance to obtain a U.S. permanent resident card for people from countries with low immigration rates, according to the U.S. Department of State. He had all the requirements: education, work experience and a sponsor. A year later, he found out he was one of the 2,000 Ethiopians to receive a visa for himself and his family.

“We didn’t expect we’d be getting the chance,” Dagne said.

In January 2004, Dagne, his wife and two children entered the United States, where they stayed with their sponsor, who was a relative, for the first three months. Although the sponsor provided accommodation, Dagne and his family had to use money from their own savings and use food stamps to cover expenses.

Dagne wanted a job that was relative and beneficial to his previous field of work, so he applied for a job at the Moran Eye Center. After four months in the country, he was employed as a surgical technician, learning the new techniques and technologies ophthalmologists use in the United States.

For the past four years, Dagne has been working as a licensed ophthalmology medical assistant, mainly working in the operating room with other surgeons.

If Dagne were to become an ophthalmologist surgeon in the United States, he would have to retake the U.S. medical licensing exam, which would put strain on the time he has with his family and at home and add more responsibilities to his full-time job.
“It’s a year of investment and commitment,” he said.

As an alternative, Dagne has aimed to create a bridge between the ophthalmologists at the U and his colleagues in Ethiopia. With the help of Geoffrey Tabin, the head of the department of international ophthalmology at the Moran Eye Center, he plans to educate his former colleagues in Ethiopia on the new surgical techniques and introduce new technologies that will advance their methods of eye care.

In the far future, after his children are grown, Dagne plans to open a clinic and provide free eye care to patients in Ethiopia.

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