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Finding his place

Mercy Family Medicine of Solon welcomes seasoned MD Acherkan

SOLON– Dmitriy Acherkan always knew he wanted to be a doctor.
“I don’t even recall the time when I made this decision. It was pretty obvious from, I don’t know, 4 or 5 years old, that I was going to be a doctor,” he said.
Dr. Acherkan joined Mercy Family Medicine of Solon a few months ago but has practiced medicine for over 30 years.
He reminisced on his early career as a surgical oncologist, which allowed him to care for patients from discovery of a tumor through surgery or chemotherapy.
“I liked that about the job,” he shared. “I like to be able to talk to people and see how they’re doing. I believe that’s why I liked that part about family medicine.”
Originally from Russia’s capital city, Acherkan graduated from Moscow Medical Stomatology Institute (now Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry) in 1986 and worked in his home country for a decade before moving to the United States.
“In 1996 it was a pretty tough time in Russia,” he explained. “It was tough for kids, and professionally. There was no joy whatsoever, including enjoying your work. We got this chance to come here and obviously decided to follow it.”
While working in a Colorado children’s hospital, Acherkan went through a mandatory application process for residency in a U.S. hospital, a journey which often lasts years for foreign medical graduates and costs a lot of money.
“When we moved here, we had two kids at that time so it was pretty complicated, pretty hard to get back to surgical fields, specifically with oncology specializations. The most reasonable thing was to go into family medicine,” he said.
According to data compiled by the National Resident Matching Program, just 337 of roughly 3,800 foreign medical graduates were placed into family medicine residency programs in 2017. Internal medicine ranked first at 2,003, which is about 27 percent of the total 7,284 who got into a first- or second-year program.
“I was very happy with my residency,” said Acherkan, who went through the three-year program at the Cedar Rapids Medical Education Foundation.
“We were doing practically everything from delivering babies, prenatal care, nursing home, hospice, you name it. That’s the beauty of community-based residency,” he added.
If Acherkan had entered his residency program this year, he would’ve been a fraction of the 52.4 percent of foreign applicants nationwide who landed one of the highly coveted residency slots. The competitive process begins early and includes multiple applications, English literacy tests, grueling medical licensing examinations, letters of recommendation and either permanent U.S. residency or a visa.
For Acherkan, an entire decade passed before he became a medical resident in Cedar Rapids. But the wait was not only worth it, but non-negotiable.
“Have I considered other careers? Probably,” he said. “But from a very early age I knew that I was going to be a doctor.”
After his residency, Acherkan went on to work at St. Luke’s for five years before joining the Mercy team. He splits his time between the Solon office on Monday and Thursday and Williamsburg on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
He said he sees about 20 patients each day.
“I like pretty much everything, but obviously I see more patients with the usual, conventional problems: diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia. That’s obviously probably the majority of my patients. I really enjoy it.”
Acherkan lives with his wife, Yelena, who worked alongside him as an anesthesiologist back in Moscow, and his youngest daughter, who attends Shimek Elementary in Iowa City.