Russian immigrant finds true calling caring for others

GREENEVERS — The photos on the wall tell only half the story: the burnt-gold deserts of New Mexico, the majestic cliffs of Monument Valley, a snow covered hillside in South Dakota. As Galina Bogdanova scans them one by one, a smile breaks across her face like a sunrise peering through storm clouds. “I’ve come a long way. I’ve seen so much” she says, her soft Russian accent filling the small office.
Sitting behind her cluttered desk at the Plain View Health Services Site in the small community of Greenevers, Bogdanova has good reason to smile as she recounts her life’s journey. A Russian immigrant, Bogdanova fled from Moscow in 1987 at the age of 22 with her mother to escape persecution by the KGB. “My mother planned everything,” remembered Bogdanova, who was pregnant at the time, “I was just another piece of luggage.”
After stops in Vienna and Italy, where her daughter was born, the trio arrived in the United States in 1988, settling in Brooklyn, NY. Having worked as a physician’s assistant in Moscow, Bogdanova sought the guidance of the New York Association of New Americans, a Jewish organization that sponsors refugees from the Soviet Union. The group helped her enroll in EMT classes, which she claims she passed only “By God’s miracle. My English was not very good.”
Recounting her time spent shuffling between being a student and mother navigating the subways of New York, Bogdanova shrugs her shoulders and says, “ It takes what it takes; you do whatever you have to. You don’t ask how hard it is.”
Her first job in the US was as an EMT worker in Brooklyn, an experience she said provided a stark contrast to her work in Moscow. “It was a culture shock. In Moscow we were highly respected. In New York, in the 1980’s, I was treated like a taxi driver, or worse. It was a total shock to me.”
Despite her uncomfortable circumstances, Bogdanova decided to further her education, enrolling in English classes and, in 1994, graduating from the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s respiratory school.
It was during this time that Bogdanova had her first experience with terrorism: her paramedic class helped treat victims of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. She said the chaos of that day brought back memories of another tragedy she witnessed first hand — the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, during which the ambulance substation where she worked helped transport sick and dying patients to the hospital.
“I was supposed to take a vacation to that area at the time it happened, but obviously my plans changed,” she said with a grim smile. “For five days the Soviet authorities completely denied that it happened. It was a scary, scary time.”
After graduating, Bogdanova spent 14 years working as a respiratory therapist at Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, VA. “I enjoyed it but it became very frustrating,” she recalled. To avoid getting burned out, she decided to go back to school. “It was time to grow again,” she remembered. Enrolling in the P.A. program at Norfolk State University, she would go on to graduate summa cum laude in 2005 before heading off to study at Eastern Virginia Medical School, which she describes as “the hardest two years of my life, besides immigrating.”
While living in Virginia, Bogdanova did clinical rotations at the Montrose County Community Center, working with poor and indigent patients from across the area, work that would come to play a significant role in her life in the years to follow.
Graduating in 2007 with her P.A. certification, Bogdanova went to work for the Forest City Federal Prison in eastern Arkansas. “I wanted to travel. My kids were grown up and I wanted to see the country.” Of her time spent at the prison, Bogdanova recalled, “It was very rewarding in some ways. You were there to take care of people, not to judge. People get sick in prison just like they do outside.”
Bogdanova said she was proud of her fight to improve the inmate’s access to basic health care. “I spent a lot of time doing sutures, putting people back together,” she remembered.
According to Bogdanova, a dispute with the prison staff led to her contract being terminated in 2008, necessitating yet another move, this time to Gallup, NM, where she found work in an urgent care clinic. Comparing the dire conditions of many of the regions Native American reservations with other areas she has seen, Bogdanova stated, “Poverty looks the same everywhere, it doesn’t matter where you go. It has the same face. People on the reservations were living like we did two centuries ago: no electricity; no water.”
In 2010 Bogdanova pulled up stakes yet again, taking a job at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where she experienced what she called “a new low. The people were poorer; the organization was terrible.”
Though she said she enjoyed visits to Mount Rushmore and the frequent sight of buffalo on the roadside, Bogdanova soon found the clinic’s disorganization nerve wracking “You never knew from one day to the next if you would have a job,” she recalled.
Eventually, monetary restraints forced Bogdanova to seek work elsewhere. After obtaining a contract to work in Wilson, she made the 1,700-mile trip to NC. Shortly afterwards, she was offered a job at the Plain View Health Services Site, where she’s been employed as a P.A. since Aug.9.  “I’ve been treated so well here,” said Bogdanova, who currently lives in Rose Hill. “I go out walking in the morning with my dog and people always greet me.”
With two grown children and a lifetime of traveling behind her, Bogdanova said she’s eager to settle down. “I’m planning to stay in this area for good,” she said, running her hand across a framed photo of the South Dakota sky. “I’m thrilled to be a part of a practice like this.”


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