Student - December 1, 2011

International students not happy with health services

Foreign students find it very hard to find their way round the health services in Wageningen. Answerphones are in Dutch, procedures are unclear and the doctors are cold.

Romila Moskovska from Bulgaria fell off her bike last spring and injured her knee. The GP assured her nothing was broken and sent her off to the physiotherapist. Nine weeks later her knee gave way again. ‘I wanted to be referred to the orthopaedic specialist, but to do that I first needed an appointment with the doctor, which meant waiting a few days. I persisted and got a referral the same day, and the doctor admitted there had apparently been something wrong all the time.' After that Romila preferred to consult her own doctor at home. ‘The Dutch doctors that treated me felt overall cold, disinterested and distant and as if working with internationals is something that they don't like.'
Gynaecological treatment
Romila's story is not an isolated case, but comes from a qualitative study conducted by students on the Wageningen course ACT (Academic Consultancy Training). On this course, students from various disciplines collaborate on a topic that is sometimes extremely close to home. This group of seven students studied the problems international students encounter in the health services in Wageningen. Grievances vary from poor information (‘I could not understand what the voice on the answering machine was saying') or an unexpected bill for a telephonic consultation, to complicated procedures for making appointments (‘The time schedule of the practitioners overlaps almost always with study time').
And then there are some big cultural differences involved. For example, GPs here perform gynaecological procedures, and one student found it embarrassing to explain her problem at reception in a full waiting room.
Our aim, your satisfaction
These stories are not new to ex-student doctor, Dr Godkewitsch. Although he has some reservations about the research (‘only 15 students took part and they were specifically asked for problems'), he does recognize the cultural differences that sometimes cause problems. ‘Health care here is good quality but you are not pampered. It is not ‘our aim, your satisfaction', as it is in some countries.'
Students are given heaps of information on arrival in Wageningen, says Godkewitsch. ‘But at crucial moments, when someone needs medical care, they can't remember where what is.' Over the years only half of all students have tended to register with a GP in Wageningen, says Godkewitsch. ‘And that is a very small number, whereas it costs nothing.'
There is also a lack of clarity about the ‘woman problem', says the former student doctor. Woman students do in fact have the option of asking to see a woman doctor, but occasionally this cannot be arranged.
Dedicated student doctor
But foreign students will not be able to avoid the Dutch approach. The trend is to have more and more specialist treatments, such as gynaecological procedures, done by GPs. Spokesman Simon Vink does not beat about the bush: ‘It is logical that foreign students have to adapt to the system here. Everyone who wants to see a doctor has to make an appointment at 8.30. So that goes for international students too.' Vink agrees that better communication could help. ‘You cannot change cultural differences, but you can explain them', he thinks. Since September general practitioners Van der Duin & Van Dinter offer a service for students. The doctors are busy setting up their new practice. All students can come to them with physical ailments. Vink: ‘We are the only university in the Netherlands with a dedicated student doctor.'
On 7 December the student council will evaluate the health service for students. The ACT report will be discussed then too.

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