“Good day, doctor! Good evening, doctor”, voices of people of all ages greet her kindly as Floarea Ciupitu walks around the village. At 61 she has been a family doctor serving Gangiova, a village in south-west Romania for the past three decades. Ciupitu oversees roughly 1700 registered patients. On week days she sleeps above her practice in a tiny room, on an old hospital bed. At night, a tiny flashlight guides her way one store up to her modest accommodation, no electricity on the staircase.
Romania has a population of almost 20 million. Doctors in rural areas are outnumbered by peers in cities two to one, while half of the population lives in the countryside. The healthcare sector is overrun with crises and never ending problems. In 27 years since the anticommunist revolution of 1989 the country has had at least 25 health ministers take office. None has so far managed to get Western care standards for patients.
Doctors, especially younger ones, are fleeing the country in search of better work conditions and career opportunities. The Romanian Health Ministry states there is a severe doctors shortage.
While things may look a little better in the city, Romania’s villages are plagued with a lack of access to healthcare. Family doctors are often overworked having to care for a larger number of patients than the recommended average. Unstable software makes communication with the central servers of the State Insurance Company more difficult, translating into longer waiting time for their patients. Poor infrastructure makes access to vulnerable communities for doctors sometimes very difficult. Emergency services also have a hard time reaching patients because of bad roads.
Dr. Ciupitu knew she wanted to become a doctor ever since she was a little girl. “I would perform injections on my dolls using safety pins”, she recalls. Ciupitu does not care if people who enter her practice are insured or not. She often puts her patients above profit and never says no to anyone asking for her help no matter the hour or the conditions.
Dr. Ciupitu is living proof that, despite all the difficulties and the problems in a flawed system, there still are heroes, doctors who commit to their patients. And they are needed. To help remember that being a doctor is a calling.
Photo story published by The New York Times – Lens.