“We are the doctors you meet in the emergency room who take over when you arrive in the ambulance, who take down your medical history and try to find you a bed, who sit up all night beside you to make sure you have what you need and to be a sounding board for your anger at the mistakes of others.”
The initiative is called “Movement of New Doctors,” and this is how it introduces itself on its blog and on Facebook. The aim of this new but extremely dynamic movement is to reconnect the doctor to the patient, to rid the profession of practitioners accustomed to getting a fat wad of cash on the side, and to uphold the code of conduct and introduce more transparency into healthcare at a time when the sector in Greece finds itself stretched to the limit.
“It all began about two-and-a-half years ago when we participated in the occupation of the Health Ministry during a protest against budget cuts,” Yiannis Kalliatsos, a 35-year-old trainee cardiologist and one of the founders of the movement, told Kathimerini. The aim was to figure out how to improve some of the many complex problems that plague the sector, both from the standpoint of its workers and from that of the patients.
“It is a movement with a purely social character,” Kalliatsos insists.
The movement has succeeded in drawing around 6,000 members from all over Greece, as well as a few Greeks specializing abroad. They come from all age groups and levels of experience, from specialized doctors to medical students.
“Our ambition is to introduce a new culture into the profession, but also to revive its most fundamental principles,” explains Kalliatsos. “Obviously the movement has brought together people from across the ideological spectrum, but there are no political ambitions here.”
The movement does not have a president and members meet about once a month in different parts of the country.
The members do not mince their words when talking about one of the main objectives of the movement, which is to eradicate the phenomenon of doctors and other hospital workers demanding payment for services on the side – known in Greek as a “fakelaki,” or small envelope.
If the previous generations of doctors lost their way and learned to dip into the honey pot, the new generation says that it is a far cry from the doctors of that era.
“We are the doctors who were at the top of our classes, who worked hard to make it into medical school and who have since experienced one disappointment after another: chaos at university, an endless wait for specialization, humiliating salaries or the complete absence of payment,” says Kalliatsos.
“We have not been paid for emergency shifts for between five and 16 months though we have to be on call, seeing around 50 cases a day apiece,” the heart doctor adds, saying that meanwhile there are 11,000 doctors in Greece still waiting to get their specialists’ certificates as the process has more or less ground to a halt.
Kalliatsos notes that it was members of the movement who offered medical care to protesters in Syntagma Square two years ago when a large rally of ordinary citizens turned violent, prompting the excessive use of tear gas by riot police. He says that members also help cancer patients who have trouble getting access to the drugs they need, while they also try to help patients who are uninsured.
“Basically our message is that medicine, above all else, should be a social service,” Kalliatsos says.