Former Afghan refugee becomes a U.S. Army doctor

| July 13, 2012 | 0 Comments
Newly promoted Maj. Rhine Hejran (left), deputy chief of Inpatient Psychiatric Service, Tripler Army Medical Center, and Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, commander, Pacific Regional Medical Command and TAMC, talk to Hamed, Hejran’s brother, on the phone after her promotion ceremony, held at TAMC, June 12. (Photo by Tripler Army Medical Center Visual Information)

Newly promoted Maj. Rhine Hejran (left), deputy chief of Inpatient Psychiatric Service, Tripler Army Medical Center, and Brig. Gen. Keith Gallagher, commander, Pacific Regional Medical Command and TAMC, talk to Hamed, Hejran’s brother, on the phone after her promotion ceremony, held at TAMC, June 12. (Photo by Tripler Army Medical Center Visual Information)

Stephanie Bryant
Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs

HONOLULU — “I think success is the best revenge in life,” said Maj. Rhine Hejran, as she described her long and harrowing journey to becoming a doctor in the U.S. Army.

Hejran, who is now the deputy chief of Inpatient Psychiatric Service at Tripler Army Medical Center, was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan.

She graduated from Kabul University School of Medicine; shortly after, her family made the difficult decision to flee to neighboring Pakistan.

“Without notice (boys were taken) from the streets and (sent) to fight at the border,” Hejran said, describing the spread of communism by Russia’s army into Afghanistan in 1979.

“We felt in danger, especially about my brothers, because one was in a university and the other was still in school,” Hejran said. “Can you imagine leaving your country (and) you don’t know where you are going (or) what you will be doing?”

Hejran, along with her father, had to cross the border through deserts and mountains. She said they were stranded for more than a week at the Afghan-Pakistan border, as the Russian army did not want Afghans, particularly educated Afghans, leaving the country.

“(We) had many close moments where I was shot at and passed nearby mine explosions,” Hejran said. “I witnessed people being shot and caught in mine explosions who lost their lives.”

Hejran’s mother and two brothers were able to travel to the U.S. in the early ‘80s unrestricted. Shortly after, the U.S. allowed Hejran’s father to join his wife and sons, but red tape stranded Hejran in Pakistan for two years.

Despite the hardships and family separation, Hejran said it was during her time at the border, caring for Afghan refugees, that she realized she wanted to be a psychiatrist.

“In the refugee camps, I was noticing a lot of the families didn’t really have physical problems, but because of the depression they had, they were becoming physically disabled,” Hejran said. “I realized the power of the mind, and my deep interest in the field of psychiatry took shape.”

When Hejran was finally able to join her family, she was dealt another blow when she learned she was not recognized as a physician in the U.S., despite her prior medical education and humanitarian work. She took other jobs in an effort to socialize and learn English, and in 1996 she passed her board exam.

“Persistence and perseverance were my tools,” Hejran said.

After moving to the U.S., Hejran had become fascinated with the idea of joining the Army, partly from watching movie and television depictions, like M*A*S*H.

“I was (intrigued) by the military life and the structure,” Hejran said. “To me, it was more like a fantasy, because in Afghanistan, women cannot serve in the military.”

In August 2011, Hejran deployed with Combat Support Hospital 96 as the only psychiatrist to Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Iraq to provide psychiatric services for more than 3,000 service members.

Hejran said she has no regrets and loves her career. She hopes to complete a fellowship in the field of forensic psychiatry.

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