This is my 12th year as a physician in the United States. I was born in London, grew up in Berkshire, and decided to become a doctor when I was a teenager. I remember being asked what I thought about the National Health Service (or NHS, the UK’s government-run health system) during my medical school interview. That question is almost a rite of passage for anyone applying to medical school in the UK. My answer was an idealistic one, probably identical to what most people in England — if not Europe — would say. Health care is a birthright. The NHS is a wonderful concept and immensely fair and just. Nobody should ever have to pay for medical care in their hour of need, right?
I speak too as someone of Indian heritage, who has seen up close and personal how unexpected illnesses in relatives can completely bankrupt families, causing untold anxiety and stress. Surely nothing could be worse than that free market extreme with no public system backup?
During medical school, I also worked for a couple of months in Adelaide, Australia — primarily in accident and emergency/trauma in a major tertiary care center. I also did a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service going on airborne missions to the Outback, mainly rescuing very sick indigenous (Aboriginal) people and bringing them back to the city. The system in Australia is an interesting mix of both public and private health care, but still with a solid government-run backbone for people who really can’t afford insurance. However, at that time, even the thought of having to pay for health care at all still seemed very foreign to me as I began my career as a physician.
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