Stayin’ Alive: A foreigner’s take on Slovak healthcare.

For most foreigners, their very first experience with the Slovak healthcare system is gaining health insurance (a residency requirement). This first act reveals just how different the experience of seeking basic care can be for foreigners. Health insurance for foreigners from outside the EU is often more expensive and offers less coverage than that of the major state-run health insurance that other residents receive. This leaves those newly arrived in the country with difficult and costly decisions to make.

As they take these important decisions on, 3rd country migrants must also submit to a thorough physical exam. This is often a foreigner’s first exposure to doctors and hospitals in Slovakia. The experience can be bewildering and frightening, especially for those who do not speak Slovak. This was true for Robert from Boston, who lamented, “Those nurses had no time for someone not speaking Slovak. [They] basically dragged and pushed me from one bench to another piece of equipment. It was like an alien autopsy.”

Full Podcast Episode

Once a foreigner is established in the system, he or she can then begin their search for a local general practitioner. Naturally, they want to find doctors who can speak a common language, but even for those living in Bratislava, this is a tall order. Most are forced to select a doctor nearest to them, and rely on spouses or friends to serve as translators. This has prompted Sarah from the UK, who depends on her husband to attend each doctor’s visit, to improve her Slovak so that she may “maintain some dignity and some privacy.”

Bagman (My story about a bag and a trip to the doctor)

Unfortunately, eventually, most foreigners will need to use the services of specialists, or they may find themselves in a medical emergency. Again, speaking Slovak well can lessen the complications that arise from a lack of understanding of the system. Foreigners can be overwhelmed with the referrals process or lost in a complex of buildings full of signs in Slovak and nurses who do not have the patience to guide them.

However, once foreigners have a chance to see the doctors face to face, they discover that, despite the sometimes ramshackle appearance of the buildings, their care is mostly on par with that of other more developed systems around the world. Doctors are often well-trained and professional. Foreign patients receive the same quality of care as their Slovak neighbors, at a fraction of the cost of some western European countries. Some even prefer the care they receive here as compared with that of their rich home countries.

Not that the Slovak healthcare system is without problems. Foreigners often comment on the same issues that plague Slovak patients. There is a lack of young doctors with up-to-date knowledge, and many other highly skilled doctors have left the country due to low pay and structural challenges. The system must modernize to provide optimal care, and soap in the restrooms is a good place to start.

Our guests in this episode had many other observations and recommendations that come from a variety of experiences, both personal and professional. Looking at Slovak healthcare from their eyes can offer a path to improvement that both benefits Slovaks and foreigners alike.

Thank you to my guests: Sarah Doherty Sirlova, Suzanne Taylor, Navid, and Robert Zanetti

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This episode and my  series on the migrant experience have been made with support from Fjuzn, a program of the Milan Simecka foundation. Please follow them online at:

2 responses to “Stayin’ Alive: A foreigner’s take on Slovak healthcare.”

  1. My experience giving birth in Slovakia (Kosice) was completely different from that of Sarah’s.

    I paid extra to be in the supposedly ‘best’ hospital here, but when my Slovak husband and I arrived to have me admitted, the staff there informed him that they weren’t allowing visitors “because of Covid” (despite the fact that the other hospitals, by then, were allowing them). I spent 6 of the worst days of my life in that hell-hole.

    While the hospital was certainly nicer-decorated than the others and actually did provide such luxuries as toilet paper, plates. cups and cutlery, it was quickly apparent that their staff were no better than those found in the other hospitals and clinics around the country.

    I was treated abominably by most of the nurses – most of them were xenophobic, refused to help me with my baby when she wouldn’t feed from a bottle and was losing far too much weight (blaming me because I wasn’t producing milk), generally treated me as a nuisance (even though I did my best with my not-so-great Slovak and with Translate), and one particularly nasty one, clearly the queen bee of the ward, actively bullied and mocked me (even trying to get the other patients to join in) and literally refused to help when I was suffering very nasty complications from a messed-up epidural. I certainly didn’t get help with showering!

    There were a few kinder nurses, but only a few.

    The doctors were great, bar one (who was clearly in cahoots with the aforementioned ‘Sestra Ratched-ova’) and mostly spoke a good level of English.

    I made a complaint to the hospital a good few months after I went home (having suffered from severe PND as a result of my experiences in hospital) but was gaslight by the director of the hospital and blamed for almost everything that had happened to me

    If I have another baby, I would much prefer to travel all the way to Austria and give birth in one of their hospitals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Heather, I’m terribly sorry about your experience. It’s always hard to know how much of these awful experiences are because of bad doctors, hospitals, nurses, bigotry, or the healthcare system as a whole. The stories in this episode arose by chance and were not conciously selected. My wife had some negative things to say about giving birth in Slovakia, but it was, on the whole, much better than her experience in America. I hope that you will find better care in the future, wherever that may be. Thank you for your input. Take care


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