By Preslava Stoyanova (10th)
I caught up with the multi-talented Dr. Iliyan Ivanov, a former student of AEG “Geo Milev,” after his recent online meeting with 12th grade biology students.
Dr. Ivanov graduated from our school and then studied medicine at the Higher Medical Institute Varna, where he graduated in 1990. He currently works as an Associate professor of Psychiatry and medical director of comprehensive adolescent rehabilitation and education services at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s in New York City. He is also a guitarist and founder of the jazz band “The Shrinks” and an artist who has exhibited his art for 15 years.
The psychiatrist has received many awards for his art, excellence in the work place, and for his music.
At first, Ivanov wanted to study surgery. However, as time passed his professor advised him that it might be too one-dimensional for his diverse interests. With the help of his friend he found that Psychiatry would be better suited to his capabilities. The psychiatrist said that he has found great success in that field as he enjoys the humanities as well as the sciences. However, the job comes with a lot of responsibility as well as risks. Some psychiatric conditions are serious and last a lifetime, and if not treated correctly the patient could be harmed.
Due to the economic problems in Bulgaria at the end of the 20th century, Ivanov decided to move to the USA. He added that the situation was so difficult at that time that his first paycheck in Bulgaria was not even enough to pay his rent and he had no opportunity to start his practice in our country. In order to transition to the USA, he did medical residencies in Clinical Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center and The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, followed by a Fellowship in Child Psychiatry at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
In New York City the psychiatrist, now 57, managed to establish his professional career. The most difficult obstacle that he needed to overcome was the level of expectation. One interview was not enough for him to get the job. People judged his personality, creativity and experience, not just his knowledge in the field. Ivanov also mentioned that he learned an important life lesson: If a person is persistent and patient they will be able to achieve their goals.
Among the awards the doctor has received is the 2016 Annual Award for Outstanding Mentor, given by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). He received the award for hosting a student named Kristen Kim and helping her with medical university. Ivanov still keeps in touch with his student.
Ivanov and his friends founded the jazz band, “The Shrinks,” at university in 2000. They started playing on the campus and people really enjoyed their shows. The band consists of bass guitar played by Ivanov, drums and saxophone. Ivanov says that they had trouble coming up with a name, but the audience had already chosen one for them — “The Shrinks” — since they were all psychiatrists. (Note: In English ‘shrink’ is slang for ‘psychiatrist.’)
Ivanov has also had several art exhibitions, including “The Forrest of Grimm,” “Turning the Corner,” “Cross Narratives and Other Stories II” and participated in invitational shows. The psychiatrist says that his favorite exhibition is always the last one in which he participated. This year, that was during the COVID pandemic in the yard of a mid-19th century church when he was invited to take part in the exhibition for the 13th year by the priest. Despite the obstacles they had to overcome due to Covid-19 safety measures, the event was a memorable one.
The doctor manages to find time for all of his passions thanks to his philosophy: “If you like something, you always find a way.” It takes a long time to be able to do things quickly and to get used to an unusual schedule. Most of the preparations are mental, he says. Ivanov suggests that everybody should try writing a personal reflection or journal. In order to succeed, you first have to try as many things as you like. “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” he says, quoting the famous wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
AEG “Geo Milev” has had a significant impact on the psychiatrist’s life. He says that for him the most special thing about high school has been keeping up with the people he knows, despite parting ways after graduation. The re-connections with close friends are always special. Ivanov mentioned that he had recently reunited with a friend in Sozopol, and they both had a lot to share, appreciating the time they had spent together. Thanks to the school, the doctor also felt confident in his speaking skills when he moved to the USA.
The psychiatrist wishes every student currently studying at AEG “Geo Milev” to not be afraid to try out things and embrace the new. We are lucky that the world is open for us to adapt and explore. Traveling a lot is the best way to obtain experience, he said.