Sharp Grossmont Drs. Andrey and Vladimir Khalafian were born to Armenian parents in the country of Azerbaijan, an independent state that was part of the former Soviet Union. Civil conflict over ethnicity and religion sent the family to Moscow for two years. Ultimately, a government-assigned church program landed them in Oklahoma City shortly before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. The brothers were just 4 and 6 years old.
Their mom was a pediatrician and their dad settled into the environmental sciences field. “Medicine was somewhat preordained for us,” says Vladimir, now 33 and a psychiatrist with Sharp Grossmont’s Behavioral Health Unit.
The brothers’ Russian-born grandmother came along and helped to raise them in a country where the family at first did not speak the language. “The First Southern Baptist church provided guidance for our parents, and helped them with finding work, getting a car and learning English,” says Vladimir. “Oklahoma City was incredibly supportive.”
They would each complete their entire education there, from grade school through medical school. That’s where they realized their passion for psychiatry — beginning with Vladimir, then Andrey followed. While Vladimir jokes about his kid brother being a “copycat,” Andrey shared his real reasons.
“In med school, I found psychiatry suited me more than other specialties,” says Andrey, 31, who primarily consults with patients admitted to the hospital for a variety of reasons. “You have to think of things in more abstract ways, and everyone presents in a unique manner.”
That sentiment seems to run in the family. “I always knew I’d do something with the brain,” says Vladimir. “I knew I wasn’t inclined to work with my hands, and wanted something that required me to think and analyze — I liked the ambiguity of psychiatry, and not dealing with just right and wrong.”
Both brothers agree the most important role they have is to help remove the stigma of seeing a psychiatrist, which can carry unfair judgement with it. Vladimir says it’s important to remember that patients may struggle with mental health conditions that can cloud normal decision-making, impairing their ability to navigate health care and creating a greater need for doctors to be gentle and understanding.
Vladimir has been practicing for three years, while Andrey has been out of his residency for one year.
“I strong-armed him into moving here,” says Vladimir. Their parents and grandmother were comforted to know the brothers had moved to the same city — and they plan to move here within a year or so, reuniting the whole family in sunny San Diego.
Do the brothers share trade secrets?
“Oh, I ask him so many questions,” Andrey says.
“He already knows all the answers,” say Vladimir. “He just likes to double-check things.”