Healthcare in Athens Week 1

Submitted by Brooklyn Tyndall on the 2024 Winter ARSC/HLTH program in Athens, Greece…

Coming to Athens I did some reading and research on the healthcare in Greece compared to the traditional healthcare at home, in the US, that I am used to. Little did I know how different it truly would be.

I had my first encounter with the healthcare system in Greece today. To start the morning we headed to KAT, the hospital where my first rotation will take place. Walking into the hospital was quite the culture shock. I was unaware prior to entering that it is very common for physicians to smoke while in their offices on duty. This came to me upon entering as smoke was the first smell everyone noticed rather than the familiar smell of cleaners at home. Seeing the architectural differences within the hospital compared to at home was an additional difference that stuck out. After receiving a tour of the hospital and the departments that the group will have the option of shadowing in, we watched a presentation on the history of both hospitals we will attend. After departing KAT, we traveled to Evangelismos, the hospital I will have my second rotation at. This hospital was fairly similar to the first one and I slowly became more aware of the difference this experience was going to be. At the end of the day we had a group dinner and I was able to grow closer to a few of the students also on the trip.

I started my rotation in the hospital today. I was assigned to the ICU in KAT. The hospital was about an hour commute from the hotel. After a brief tour of the unit and the medical staff we were introduced to the patients in the ICU. The criteria for admission into the ICU is fairly similar to the criteria at home, which was shocking compared to how many patients were admitted. After a few questions I figured out that the healthcare system in Greece prevents patients from having DNR/DNI or stopping any form of care. Connecting what I just learned with the amount of patients and how long they had been there (most more than 3 months!) I realized how completely different this ICU was from the one my grandmother works at at home. Aside from the hospital, I was able to explore a bit more of Athens and shop around some of the souvenir shops.

Today was my second day in the ICU and I was with the same physicians and patients from before. The physicians were telling me that their shifts last anywhere from 24 to 30 hours, completely different from the standard 8 or 12 hour shift at home. I cannot imagine working these long hours on top of being short staffed physicians. I was able to dive deeper into medicine and apply what I have learned so far with my Human Physiology major to quite a few of the patients’ conditions. This has been my favorite portion of the trip so far as I can tie all of the anatomy and physiology into a case and understand it from a deeper perspective. We had
another group dinner tonight in a traditional Greek tavern where I was able to try all new foods (it was really good).

Today the ICU physician went deeper into the medical portion of each patient’s case. We were able to analyze arterial blood gas tests and see why the physicians make the small changes that they do. Alongside that I saw a tracheostomy and a central line put in. In the ICU here after 21 days of being intubated the patient has to have a tracheostomy for their safety and the convenience behind it for the medical staff.

The physician I was paired with today wasn’t quite sure what to explain to me since I had seen the patients all week. Although, she began drawing out the conditions of the patients so I could visually learn what was going on aside from the medical stats in front of me. After getting back from the hospital, me and a few other students went out to get a traditional Greek dinner and tried the Italian gelato that was close to our hotel.

The entire group did our first formal excursion today to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon. It was about an hour and a half bus ride away but once we got there the view was beautiful. We all learned a small portion of Greek history on the way to prepare us for the temple we saw. The weather was gloomy with on and off rain pouring. Although I was able to take a
small video to capture the stunning view while we were up on the mountain. After the tour we went to a group lunch and had Greek pizza for the first time. The primary difference was the feta cheese which ended up being really good.

Today was the first day where nothing was scheduled so we were able to hike/tour Acropolis. After around a 20 minute hike up to Acropolis we had a view of the entire city of Athens. On top of the Acropolis was the temple of Athena, the Parthenon, and the Erechtheum. Each and every building was beautiful in its own way and some were even under construction. After touring Acropolis we did a small Greek dinner of Gyros and got Gelato.