n Interview with Eliza Kaufmann – Romanian psychiatrist living in Switzerland

Which is the status of a psychiatrist in Switzerland, in your opinion?
In the psychiatric clinics of Switzerland, a psychiatrist is regarded and paid like any other specialised doctor. There are some general or internal practitioners (mostly in the older generation) who do not consider psychiatry a necessary field of medicine, but they are not a majority. In our clinic there are 25 residents, out of which 40% will not become psychiatrists. These colleagues will open their general practice in a few years and they came to us because they realised how important the psychiatric knowledge is. They know already that approximately 30% of their cases will have psychiatric or psychosomatic implications. Had they not worked with us, they would not know how to treat them. Psychiatric experience is also important in other domains such as rheumatology that is very much confronted with psychosomatic pains. Regarding the income, as far as I know, paediatricians seem the worse payed in Switzerland, then the infantile psychiatrists and after them psychiatrists. However, I consider psychiatry one of the most fascinating fields of medicine, because of the complexity of the cases, their evolution as well as their aura of mystery and unknown.

Would you make a comparison with the status of a psychiatrist in Romania?
My sister - dr.med. Istocescu Adriana – works in a Clinic in Suceava as a neuro-psychiatrist for children. She must see around 28 patients a day, according to the contract she has with the insurance company. Sometimes she is obliged to see even more because some mothers come with their children from far away and she knows how difficult it is to travel from the countryside to the city. In Switzerland 10 patients a day are already a lot. I am obliged to offer my patient at least half an hour. Sometimes when I must meet family members, discussions are complex and I can dedicate up to one and a half-hours to one patient. Therefore, I cannot see more than eight patients a day. I know that doctors in Romania are very well prepared, but I think they do not manage to cover the needs. The Canton of Zurich has for 1 million inhabitants 250 psychiatrists in offices and 6 psychiatric clinics with a total of one thousand beds. In Suceava County for the same number of inhabitants there are only 6 specialists for infantile neuro-psychiatry.

How do you combine your career with taking care of your son?
My son Adrian is almost two years old. After his birth I had only 16 weeks maternity leave and than I had to resume working 100%. Since February I work only 70% in the clinic and 5-10% in a private office where I practice behaviour psychotherapy. The rest of the time I spend at home with Adrian. My husband works once a week „home-office“ to spend more time with our son. Once a week I bring Adrian to the day care in the clinic where I work so he gets used to other kids of his age. Besides, we have at home a young Romanian woman, who speaks my language and takes care of the child and house when we are not at home. I wanted to arrange things that way in order for my son to speak Romanian. I speak only Romanian with Adrian. My husband, even though he is Swiss, speaks very good Romanian and he wishes that Adrian could communicate with his Romanian grand parents in their own language. Sometimes it is rather hard for me here in Switzerland. People are not used to see women working in leading positions and having kids at the same time. If the child is sick and you have nobody to take care of him, it is your problem, at work you must always do the best you can. Some exceptional situations can be tolerated, of course, but they must not become a habit, otherwise you get bad evaluations. We know couples where the husband stays at home with the children or works less than the wife, or other couples where both spouses work part time and take care of the child. There is also very little support from the government, unfortunately: day care places are insufficient and expensive, the public kindergarten takes children only few hours a day and starting with 5 years of age.

How do you keep contact with your homeland?
I have my parents and two sisters in Romania and another sister in Greece. I phone weekly with them and once or twice a year we visit Romania. In May 2003 I celebrated Adrian’s baptism in Romania together with my parents-in-law and other ten Swiss friends. I call regularly my best friend who is doctor in Craiova. Sometimes I spontaneously call in Romania friends from high school or university, on their birthday or for season’s greetings.

How did you make your big friends’ circle here in Switzerland?
I changed four work places during my specialisation and I made friends. I got closer to friends of my husband and their families. Some people I met at the Christian orthodox parish in Zurich and others through friends. My husband and I enjoy organising parties for our anniversaries and we invite even a hundred people, friends, acquaintances, Swiss, Romanians and other nationalities. We have good relationships with our neighbours. We meet sometimes for a barbecue or a coffee. I try to adapt the Romanian mentality to the Swiss rigidity.

Is there rigidity?
Yes. Everything is very organised. You cannot invite someone from one day to another. People do not come to knock at the door and say „Come and have a coffee“. At the beginning Swiss people are very mistrustful and reserved. Often when I approach someone - since I have an open and spontaneous character - I almost feel how this person asks herself „What does she actually want from me?” Besides, there are so many rules to observe: all these recycling of carton, paper, glass, garbage. At the beginning I was exasperated but now I find them very normal and get nervous when I see that in other places they do not have these rules. Actually, it is a question of education and habit.

Where is „home“ for you?
Here and in Romania … even in Greece, when I visit my sister (after graduation I lived several months at my sister’s place in Crete, she is a dermatologist and lives in Chania). Wherever I have family and friends I can say I feel „internationally at home“.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Alina Mondini, Zurich

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