A different side of Greece by Katherine Hauge

June 1, 2016

I studied abroad in Greece for many of the same reasons thousands of tourist pour in to the country every year: I was seduced by the culture, the history, and the stunning scenery. I did however have one unique goal that set me apart from the tourists, and that was to see Greece for what it really is, the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. I wanted to visit the sites and do the traditional things a visitor is supposed to do in Greece, but I also wanted to have a better understanding of the real issues, where people are hurting and what is being done to help. Since I hope to become a nurse in a global setting, volunteering at the non-profit Γιατροί του Κόσμου, or Doctors of the World, offered me the opportunity to both see the real side of Greece and get a better understanding of a foreign health care system.  As it turned out, the clinic was the perfect place to do just that.

I first heard about Γιατροί του Κόσμου through a friend in my study abroad program, College Year in Athens. She had interned there the previous semester and had had an incredible experience, even though she was not pursuing a healthcare career. Immediately, I was drawn in by her description of the organization: you worked shoulder to shoulder with the nurses and provided care to the poor Greeks and immigrants, and consequently, saw all the nitty-gritty daily issues that these underserved populations experience.

The Athens Omonia site of Γιατροί του Κόσμου has a diverse team from all walks of life including, but not limited to, surgeons, general doctors, endocrinologists, cardiologists, OB/GYN’s, pharmacists, nurses, administrations and an arsenal volunteers. The nurses and doctors I have gotten to work with come from diverse backgrounds: many are students hoping to eventually go in to the medical field, others are retired, and still others also work part time at another medical facility.

My responsibilities varied depending on which doctors are at the clinic, and the type of patients being seen. From morning to early afternoon, patients come for everything from abscessed fingers needing draining, open cuts for bandaging, or infected wounds in serious need of cleaning. The range of ailments seen at the clinic are almost as diverse at the types of patients. During this time I jumped in wherever I could to assist the doctors and nurses in any way possible to provide their patients with adequate care.

As it turns out, Γιατροί του Κόσμου provided some of the most meaningful memories of my time in Greece. Working at the clinic, I saw the extremes of emotions. From an immigrant man who had his feet amputated after living in an internment camp to a native Greek in near diabetic coma, to a woman hearing her baby’s heart beat for the first time, each day brought all kinds of highs and lows, adding up to an incredible experience that I will always be thankful for. Looking back at my experience I honestly say that I have seen the real side of Greece, and even in the not-so-pretty parts, there is beauty. I hope I will be able to return to Greece one day to go back to the clinic and rekindle the many friendships that started at Γιατροί του Κόσμου. After volunteering at the organization for a semester, it is clear to me that the organization embodies the spirit of Greece: it is strong, compassionate, and it endures.

Katherine is a senior at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.