I Thought Socialized Medicine Was Soooo Great, But Now I’m Like, “No Thanks”

The English speak about the NHS with pride. At a pub, a Hagrid look-a-like overheard my American accent and then screamed, “Your medicine is screwed! You have to pay for it! We have the best medicine on earth!” But bragging about the NHS is the medical equivalent to saying you own a Lamborghini that lacks windows, wheels, and an engine.

Within a week of breathing cold English air—I’m studying abroad in Oxford—I contracted a bacterial infection.

I tried to make an appointment at the surgery closest to my apartment, but Oxford students can only receive treatment at a facility thirty minutes from my flat. I pre-registered online, but the general practioner’s computer lacked my information. The secretary claimed I wasn’t a person. Once I showed them my passport and student Visa, they directed me to a doctor’s office in carpeted basement.

I told the doctor I needed antibiotics because I have an immune deficiency. “Your body can handle it,” she said. 

“I’m going to end up in the hospital if you don’t give me penicillin. I need treatment for my immune deficiency.”

“Have your American doctor fax me what she wants me to do about your immune problem, and then I’ll take care of it. You’ll be fine. You’re young. Your body will take care of it.”

Five days later, a lump grew in my throat, and I started coughing green mucus.

I called a cab to take me to the hospital. As I walked into the emergency room, a cracked out skinhead tore off his bloody bandage, revealing his blood soaked hand. He threw the bandage at my face. I gave the secretary my name; once again the system had lost my information.

When I finally saw the doctor, I explained my medical condition to him. I handed him paperwork detailing my immune deficiency. He left the room and then returned an hour later. “I had to Google your disease,” he said. He drew my blood and discovered I had a blood infection. Shockingly, he prescribed me penicillin. Because of a budget cut, he gave me five days worth of antibiotics instead of the standard seven-day treatment. Two weeks later, I’m still sick.

The NHS sounded great, but it functions like the DMV. Socialized medicine is only worthwhile if you’re looking for a free way to die.

 

Mitchell Sunderland is freelance writer and digital copywriter in Oxford. His work has appeared in VICERookieEmily Books QuarterlyHuffington Post, and Thought Catalog. He tweets and tumblrs regularly.

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72 Comments / Post A Comment

Kerry@twitter (#2,243)

To be fair, it sounds like most of this was because you’re not a British resident/taxpayer. I’m also an American in Britain, and while it’s true that the quality of care can vary from practice to practice and doctor to doctor, that was true when I was living in the US, too. The problem is that, as a foreign student/non-taxpayer, it seems you’re only allowed to go to the one practice. Which is obviously crap, and I’m sorry you’re still ill, but also isn’t really about problems of socialized medicine for citizens and residents of the country (ie, the vast majority of people who use it).

t-square (#1,401)

Please, please, please use the correct form of “your” or… I don’t know, but it hurts my eyes.

meg (#329)

@t-square snap!

meg (#329)

*your *your (sorry)

Megano! (#124)

Something tells me the experience is much different if you’re actually a British citizen. For example, they wouldn’t have had to waste time consulting your dr back home (though the fact that they do that is pretty weird).

Kerry@twitter (#2,243)

I’m pretty sure the reason they checked with the US doctor is that they didn’t want to stomp in with antibiotics and possibly affect the patient’s care plan with their long-term provider.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Here’s my own account of the NHS.
I, too, was an international student in the UK, but in Northern Ireland, not England. My experience could not have been more different then yours. One of the first things my university had us foreigners do upon arrival was enroll at a local practice. I’m sorry about all the confusion you went through just trying to be seen – that must have been tough on top of feeling wretched.
I also developed a bacterial infection a few months into my time there (seriously, something about the air!) and the care I received was prompt, professional, and very kind. I had to call an out-of-hours number once when my bronchitis took a turn for the worse (but I didn’t think it was ER-visit worthy) and the nurse and doctor I spoke with were, again, professional and lovely.
I unfortunately had reason to visit the doctor a few more times, and I really felt well cared for each time. On the one occasion where I got really sick and needed to see a doctor but the office was completely booked, they made room in the schedule for me.
I also never experienced being “short-changed” on medication, always getting the appropriate dosage. I also have a pre-existing condition and they were fantastic about keeping on top of testing and medication levels.
Now back in the US, with no health insurance, and having just spent half my paycheck at the Health Dept., I really, really miss the NHS!
I respect that you had a very different experience than I, but your comment that universal health care is only worthwhile if you’re looking for a free way to die is ridiculous. As a person who received excellent care for an existing condition and excellent care while ill, I’m proof that the NHS can do a lot of good.

questingbeast (#2,409)

A medical degree is the same whether you’re working in the NHS or private practice. You didn’t think your doctor was very good? I don’t see what that has to do with paying for it or not. Better than paying thousands to see a bad doctor.
Also, as other people said: if you were from the UK you would be registered at a practice, and they’d have your notes, so basically none of this would apply.
Also: I had an infection last week, made an appointment for the next hour, walked away with a prescription for antibiotics (didn’t even have to pay for the prescription; hurrah for Wales). Anecdotes, what can’t they prove?

olivia (#1,618)

This is a ridiculous and poorly written post, and I’m honestly surprised The Billfold would run it. Are you trying to be “bipartisan” or something?

For the author, you’re brand new to a country and not a legal resident, and you had a hard time navigating their healthcare system-that sucks, and complaining about it is fair enough. But saying it’s the worst thing ever and kills people? Grow up, guy.

mlh (#905)

Totally agree. It’s actually somewhat embarrassing for the Billfold in my opinion. As far as I can tell, this guy met a doctor who was kind of a jerk, and what on earth does the drug addict throwing a bandage at him have to do with anything? I suppose if you have health insurance in the US you get to go to doctors that poor people can’t afford, so you don’t have to deal with their unsightly wounds?

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@mlh Not even, since The Poors have medicare and can go to all the same doctors as us Working Poors (at least in NYC, where you can also get a bloody bandage waved in your face even miles from a doctor’s office.)

Faintly Macabre (#1,043)

@olivia Yeah, as the daughter of a social worker who now works mostly with undocumented immigrants (aka also non-legal-residents), and also just a normal American, this story is nothing. The doctors were willing to see you? And you didn’t have to pay them thousands of dollars for possibly preventing your death? Please send this expose to my mother’s client who was knocked out, mugged, and shot in the stomach and leg, and then discharged from the hospital almost immediately after emergency surgery–to walk himself home in a walker.

(Not to mention that because the guy’s latino, doesn’t speak English, and is undocumented, most of the doctors and staff assumed that he was an unlucky robber and treated him as such. Yay America!)

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

*sigh*

I’ll tell that to all the uninsured Americans I know.

And then I’ll continue to get the consistently excellent care I’ve always received from the “socialized” Canadian health care system. 32 and hasn’t killed me yet, in spite of a whole whack of lung infections during my life time!

But the key question: Did you pay for this substandard care? Because in America, you could have had the exact same experience, and paid out the nose for it.

The plural of anecdote is not data.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@polka dots vs stripes “The plural of anecdote is not data.”
This is the best snappy phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I’m stealing it!

@sintaxis I can’t take credit for it, I’ve seen it on the internet and liked it too! But I’m glad I can share the snappiness ;)

Leslie (#423)

@polka dots vs stripes uh you still pay for it. It just comes out of your paycheck in the form of a tax.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@polka dots vs stripes Unfortunately, as someone into the social sciences, I think it’s more complicated than that phrase, but I’m still going to whip it out at parties when people make sweeping generalizations based on a few experiences!

@Leslie Well yeah, and I pay for my health insurance out of my paycheck too, and I still had to pay $160 for a knee brace and a trip to urgent care out of pocket. Plus my co-pay. So, upwards of $200, plus whatever comes out of my paycheck, for 20 minutes and a panacea. I’d rather pay taxes so EVERYONE can get the healthcare they need, instead of line some insurance company’s pockets.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@polka dots vs stripes Given the fiscal mess we find ourselves in, please explain how the country will pay for insuring EVERY FREAKING PERSON!!!

Wealhtheow (#2,626)

@FreddyRex
We Americans already spend the highest proportion of our GDP in the entire world to health care costs, and have some of the lowest life expectancy and quality of life measures in the developed world. Health care costs in the US are rising faster than wages or inflation, and are the cause of about half the bankruptcies being filed in the US today–we literally *cannot* keep up our current system. Numerous studies have estimated that 20-31% of these huge costs are based purely on the complex insurance administration system in the US, and it’s been estimated that not taxing health insurance costs means companies use it as a tax shelter, which means ~$150 billion a year is lost to taxes. And the US already pays for every single person to get health care (compensating hospitals for the uninsured’s care to the tune of at least $34 billion a year), but we do it in the most round-about, uneven, expensive way possible, with the worst heatlh outcomes. (For example, providing only acute care, so health problems get worse and more expensive to treat before they’re taken care of, whereas basic preventative care would have been cheaper and resulted in better health.)

So basically, everyone pays more, often for worse outcomes, because we as a nation are unwilling to admit that poor people might deserve good medical treatment too. Paying for universal health care, not just universal acute health care, would be cheaper.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@Wealhtheow You are making a huge leap of faith if you believe the federal government can effectively manage a health care system for the entire country. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.

Wealhtheow (#2,626)

@FreddyRex Do you actually have a bridge? Because I have a feeling you do not have a bridge, but in fact are being sarcastic. It is just a gut feeling tho!

Perhaps you DO have a bridge, and additionally, are actually concerned that the federal government wouldn’t be able to manage a single health care system. Despite already being in charge of coordinating three huge health care systems, monitoring the health and health care of the nation through the CDC, monitoring the health effects of consumer products, monitoring air and water quality, directing and coordinating disaster relief and conducting *several wars simultaneously*, I mean.

stinapag (#2,144)

@FreddyRex You do understand what Medicare is, right?

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@Wealhtheow I wish I did have that bridge. Because you seem to think the federal government is some single entity which executes its tasks with the same amount of efficiency throughout the country. I got news for you, there is a huge disparity when it comes to quality of service from the government.

And when managing a health care system for 330 million people, you better believe that quality would be pretty poor. If the people running a national health service were as high quality as those that serve in our armed forces, THEN I would be all for a national health system.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@stinapag I do. You do understand what our debt and deficit are, right?

pearl (#153)

It’s incredibly unfair to make sweeping generalizations about not only the NHS, but socialized medicine in general, (both of which have helped millions of people), based on your anecdotal evidence of its use as a foreigner.

This was pretty much my student health care center in college (which was, everyone agreed, the worst), but I went to college in Florida. This might be a good argument if there was any indication the substandard care the author received was a) caused or b) even correlated to NHS, but no dice.

Kate (#1,408)

Just typed and deleted ten or so comments and now I’m just navigating away.

emilies (#956)

@Kate I did the same! One of those “deleted by user”‘s is mine…

chic noir (#713)

@Kate no no no you guys… We want to hear what you have to say.

I’m assuming you’re talking about the Summertown Health Centre? As an American who studied at Oxford, I find your nitpicking with the “carpeted basement” absurd. You’re not there for the scenery.

Also, is it weird that I don’t find it strange that the practitioner didn’t acquiesce immediately and hand you a bag of antibiotics? Over-prescribing antibiotics is a serious issue, and one shouldn’t expect them to be handed out freely.

And finally, and this is advice more for everyone, as someone who’s lived abroad with a pre-existing condition, it’s in your best interest to bring documentation of that with you (especially if you have a rare disorder). Your doctor at home should additionally know that you’re leaving the country and if need be, be able to fax/scan documentation as well. Word of mouth is, unfortunately, not how the medical community works.

questingbeast (#2,409)

@armagnacforbreakfast ‘Over-prescribing antibiotics is a serious issue’. Exactly; I find it very strange that he presumes a five-day course is due to ‘budget cuts’, rather than the fact that shorter courses are becoming more common in an attempt to reduce drug resistance.

HI EVERYONE. To answer some of your questions and assumptions, it wasn’t a college medical office. It was THE GENERAL SURGERY. Also, I brought all my forms with me. They were aware of my condition. I should have given me antibiotics considering half of immunities don’t work and I have a blood clotting condition. Just wanted to clarify all that. Thanks for reading.

NinetyNine (#1,864)

A Thing Happened to Me and Now I Must Generalize: The Billfold!

The Mole (#2,633)

@NinetyNine This is way, way, way too true. Anecdotes =/= systematic truths.

Tara (#2,619)

As a Canadian with “socialized” health care, I feel compelled to speak to this. I went to school in the U.S., and I can’t even tell you how many times I had people tell me that free, government sponsored health care doesn’t work. I’m not saying it’s perfect here; sometimes hospitals and healthcare facilities are overburdened and overcrowded, which means we have to wait for care. But here’s the thing: If I wake up tomorrow with some horrible illness, they’ll put me straight into a hospital bed and give me all the medicine, surgery, etc. I need until I either get better, or die. Incidentally, the latter is what happened to my father several years ago (cancer), and I can’t even imagine what getting a bill for thousands of dollars would have done to my mother at that point. But there was no bill. I’m very grateful for that, and for the fact that I think he and everyone else around here gets an equal opportunity to survive a serious health issue.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@Tara yup. honestly, I am not always a fan, but when my dad needed to get his hips replaced, when my neighbour had cancer, when my grandparents were sick, etc, etc, etc, no one went bankrupt and people received medical attention. not the best, because of the way the system works, (ie most doctors, nurses, etc are good, but it takes a long. time. to see them). We also need supplementary insurance for perscriptions, dental, etc – unlike the nhs which covers vision and dental – but sometimes, I am happy to be canadian.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@Tara Here’s the thing you are forgetting. Canada and the U.S. are two very different countries with very different populations. Your model may work for you, but it is unsustainable in the U.S. fiscally and logistically.

Wealhtheow (#2,626)

@FreddyRex Yes, that’s right, we’re ~so different~ from literally every other developed (and several developing) countries in the world.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@FreddyRex we are different (Canada, US), but pretty much every other country in the world has some form of socialized assistance. in countries where basically nothing works the way we expect I have used public health care for basic medical attention and had to pay zero to very few dollars.

@Tara Yeah, having had six sets of ear tubes to save my hearing before the age of 16, followed by acute care to restore my face after a cycling accident, followed by acute care to save my right (working) hand after another cycling accident – Canada is pretty rad.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@Wealhtheow Fiscally, how’s the EU doing these days?

Wealhtheow (#2,626)

@FreddyRex Wow, it’s like we’re in the midst of a world-wide recession. But certainly US banks, deficit and unemployment rate have not been affected by it!

FreddyRex (#2,625)

@Wealhtheow Yep, I’m sure in a few years the EU will be as healthy as ever!

Kerry@twitter (#2,243)

“General surgery” means a doctor’s office, for those of you outside the UK – it’s like going to a family doctor. (Sorry if that’s patronizing, I can’t remember if that’s common knowledge or not.)

AL (#2,194)

Thanks for listening, Mike Dang.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

And this is different from the US system how? (Oh, right, we have to pay for all these things to happen here.)

hahe@twitter (#2,410)

You know, I also went to university in England from a foreign country, albeit one where nationalized healthcare is something that will probably not even begin to happen in my lifetime. In fact, I went to TWO universities, with a break in between, in different cities. And my experience with the NHS varied, of course because this is not a perfect world and not everything works perfectly all the time.

Nevertheless I had an overall wonderful (yes, WONDERFUL) experience. When I needed treatment, I was able to go to the student centre even without an appointment and be seen in a reasonable amount of time. For my Masters, not only did I not register through the university, I didn’t register at all. But when I went for treatment at a random health centre I googled, all I had to do was fill out ONE form. They didn’t even ask for my proof of address!

But you know what? Even if I’d had a horrible, or THE WORST experience ever with the NHS (or rather, a few doctors within the NHS), I still would think that socialized medicine was the way to go. Health is a human right (how weird is it that this needs qualification?) and the only way to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare is to MAKE it accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation.

Also, where are these English people who take such pride in the NHS, I sure didn’t meet too many of them :)

hahe@twitter (#2,410)

@hahe@twitter Also just to be clear my last sentence was a joke, because lots of my friends moaned about the NHS in a joking way, no one ever thought that it wasn’t the way to go despite (as @Saaoirse says) issues with funding decreasing the ability of the NHS to function as well as it could.

Saaoirse (#112)

The NHS is a brilliant institution. Recently, problems like this have been more frequent, though, and you hit the nail on the haid when you said it’s funding. The cuts here have weakened the NHS significantly. The answer is more funding. The answer is not the offhand dismissal of something that has saved or lengthened countless lives. Of course British people are proud of the NHS, of course we love it. We’ve all seen it help someone who could never have afforded the treatment they needed. Maybe let those of us who have experience it for years decide its worth, huh?

Anyway, feel better soon. You should probably make another appointment, if you’re still ill.

mishaps (#65)

So, let me get this straight- your doctor in a foreign country asked you to have your American doctor fax them with instructions, and you did… what? You waited until you were hacking up green stuff and went to the ER?

Whether you’re in the US or Canada or the UK or an astronaut en route to Mars, you bear some responsibility for your own health and healthcare. Doubly so if you have an unusual condition. Either you left out part of what happened, or you don’t understand the actual moral of the story.

Poppy (#1,438)

Huh. You know, I moved my immuno-compromised self from England to the US, pre-existing condition and all, and had an absolutely dreadful experience trying to work out how the US healthcare system worked, convincing doctors that I had a pretty good handle on what I needed, medication-wise, and dealing with some of the ‘undesirables’ that you typically see in hospitals and doctor’s offices. And then, of course, I had huge bills, even though I have health insurance!

FYI – I pay considerably more tax in the US than I ever did in England. And I’m not a big earner.

(The point is foreign healthcare’s always a bit tricky to navigate, but sometimes you don’t have to pay for it, and that’s nice).

cee (#589)

@cee when i say “which GP you were registered at” i mean “which GP accepts student from your college”. there is no single facility for oxford students.

i mean, this reads as though you did not successfully make an appointment, but assumed you had, and just turned up? maybe you should have gone to your college nurse first so she or he could have taken you through the process.

cee (#589)

@cee i don’t know what happened to my painstaking comment! oh well, it was a bit patronising.

essentially:

1. your college (if you are at the university of oxford; your institution, if you’re at another) should be providing you with the information like “which gp’s surgery you’re meant to go to and how to register” – and in fact they should have organised a registration session in fresher’s week.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@cee

“they should have organised a registration session in fresher’s week.”

Yep, exactly. They made all the foreign students at my uni register with a GP before we even registered for classes!

Well, this is some stellar, exhaustive, well-researched journalism. A Pulitzer for you, sir!

Anyway, what the hell does the skinhead have to do with it?! Oh, I forgot, in your country poor people aren’t all that welcome in hospitals.

Pro tip: when you’re writing about something as huge as the NHS, do some fucking research.

shannowhamo (#845)

@londonistheplaceforme I don’t even mind the story, it wasn’t very illustrative but sometimes I enjoy a contrary anecdote now and then. But to say it’s a way to DIE as though she didn’t get medical treatment for free and very much did not die is just over the top cray.

editrickster (#279)

@shannowhamo I’d just like to point out that this writer is a dude.

@shannowhamo Anecdotes aren’t journalism, though. I know The Billfold is a blog, not a newspaper, but editorial standards still matter.

darklingplain (#938)

Two of my friends are studying abroad in England and their experiences with the NHS have been uniformly positive (typical interaction: Perfectly normal appointment, then “wait, I don’t need to pay? At all? Really? Are you sure?”)

You had a bad medical experience, the kind people have in every country all the time, and the only difference is that at least you didn’t get charged for it.

lazyjane (#2,131)

I spent 3 years in the UK and have lived in Canada for 5 years, and I’ve had some ups and downs with the health systems in both countries. The UK (and Canada) are culturally opposed to antibiotic use unless absolutely necessary – a fact that shocked me when I first learned this. I was used to them being given to me like candy. Also, a health system that is rationed means sometimes longer waits and crowded offices. I was used to getting appointments whenever I wanted. Bottom line – if you are insured in America, you are spoiled.

A few tips from my experiences: Be pro-active. Keep asking, keep calling, make sure you’re heard. Keep going to the doctor, over and over again, if it’s not working. Know that sometimes illness/drugs are called something else abroad, so if it’s a big concern, do some of your own research or be patient if they’re not sure what you’re talking about. Doesn’t mean they’re incompetent.

But really, – don’t complain about free healthcare. If it was so bad, Brits would be dropping like flies.

theotherginger (#1,304)

@lazyjane yes. you must be proactive. so, if you don’t speak english, are an immigrant, or work minimum wage, you are less likely to have the time to do this. but it is possible…

stinapag (#2,144)

When I was an American at Oxford (’94-’95) I used NHS three times. 1) The morning after pill (thank god, because it wasn’t legal in the US at that point), when I just walked over to Boots on the High Street with my NHS card and a prescription from my college nurse. 2) A rugby injury, where I discovered that my right eyebrow had been split open after I woke up on the pitch. We couldn’t find a taxi at that time of the day, so my teammate walked my bruised and battered and bloody form from the Pembroke pitch towards the Radcliffe on the other side of town. On the way, we saw a GP’s office. We just walked in, they saw I was bleeding all over their foyer, and they stitched me up in three minutes. I was told “don’t drink as much as you normally do” and interpreted that to mean “no ban on drinking” and resulted in the worse hangover of my life. Scar is pretty good. Guy must have studied plastic surgery at some point.
3) Travel shots. I made an appointment with the same GP. No problem whatsoever. NHS card.

chic noir (#713)

Oh God Michael not you too. Dude you are one of the finest writers in the history of the internet but I’ve got to correct you here. The British system isn’t shared by other parts of Europe.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard people complaining about the French, Australian or Swedish system. Americans who are against universal healthcare like to hold up the British system as if it is the only model of universal or socialist medicine.

cee (#589)

@chic noir if you want complaints about the French system I can give you one good one! pharmaceutical companies in france have this absurd control over amounts of medication sold, such that when you are given a prescription the government has to pay for a larger amount of medication than you are actually using, the spare of which has to be destroyed because passing on medication once the seal on the packet has been broken is not actually legal. oh, monopoly practices.

hollysh (#2,108)

@chic noir I’m living in Australia and can contribute a bit of my understanding of the system here, called medicare. I’m not on medicare because I’m a foreigner so my insurance is technically private but basically equivalent to medicare (I visit the same doctors and am billed in the same way as medicare patients). Everyone is automatically eligible for medicare but anyone can pay for private insurance and receive fancier treatment (seriously fancy, google some of the private hospitals around Sydney). Those with medicare cards can either go to doctors who bill directly to medicare or some doctors have patients pay up front and they can then be reimbursed by medicare. It creates a tiered system where poorer people go to bulk-bill doctors, who are often busier and less personable, middle-class types get reimbursed and rich people go to private care. My experiences with bulk-bill doctors have been mixed but I’ve always received the care I needed and I am paying a hell of a lot less money than I would be in the U.S. Overall, I think Australians have really positive experiences with healthcare here as it is fairly accessible and not overrun due to the de facto tiered system.

chic noir (#713)

@hollysh -thanks. I’ve heard good things about the Australian system.

FreddyRex (#2,625)

Thank you! Many Americans have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to NHS. It really is a mess.

People always forget the history of how NHS started. A UK exhausted from WW2 wanted to reward itself (and rightly so in my opinion) for the sacrifices they made during the war. However, they were bankrupt. So who had to jump in and pay for it??? That’s right, the U.S.

So whenever someone asks me why don’t we pay for a national health care system, I just say we did, but it’s in the UK.

novembertea (#2,203)

I know who this person is! World, stop being so small…

msperception (#2,737)

I’m also an American studying abroad in Oxford (hi Michael!) and I have to say that I’ve had a very different experience with the NHS.
My first contact was when I tried to renew my birth control subscription. The kind I use isn’t sold in the UK, except at US prices, and I wasn’t super enthused about that, so the doctor talked about option and told me where to go to get an implant. He also spent a really long time talking about the fact that my uterus is an odd shape, and, despite the fact that he was nearing seventy and wearing a bowtie which made the whole thing really ridiculous, was much appreciated.
Neither the person who discovered the condition nor the people I saw at Planned Parenthood ever took the time to explain what was going on.
I’m going to get the implant today, and, apart from being stupidly far out of town and away from where students live, the family planning clinic has been lovely.
I also got pink eye (as part of a whole bronchitis package I contracted immediately on arrival) and was thrilled to find that you can just get the medicine over the counter once the pharmacist ascertains that you have it (which is really quite obvious as your eyes will be pink), so saved a lengthy doctor’s visit to get a prescription for something I know that I have.
I think that really using pharmacists as another diagnostic option for common, easily-treated illnesses is something that would be a great idea for the US.
Also, as I discovered in a fit of sick googling, when searching symptoms in google UK, the first thing that pops up is an NHS page listing what you could have, treatment, and when to see a doctor. Unlike WebMD the answer is never “you have either a migraine or a brain tumor,” so I think it calms people into using the system less an finding the medicine they need without a doctor, because in most cases you don’t need one.

Edited to add: And although I’m an American, I had no problem being registered with the local GP, although this may be because I’m a fully matriculated student of the university, so I got dealt with in the same administrative batch as all the UK students.

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