Health Care

I’ve been asked about the Norwegian health care system a few times, so I thought I’d write about my (thankfully) limited experience with it.

When I first came to Norway, I had to register as a resident and then wait for my personal number, the Norwegian equivalent of a US social security number. Once I had my personal number, I was then in the health care system and able to register for a doctor, or fastlege, either online or by phone (+47 815 70 070).*

Now I ran into a bit of trouble actually figuring out the fastlege website, unsurprising considering that it’s in Norwegian. This led to me calling the health care phone number. Now one important thing to know about Norwegians is that they excel at rule following and conflict avoidance. Conflict avoidance paired with one confused and frustrated person, me, did not lead to a great phone conversation. Our circuitous 30 minute conversation can pretty much be summed up below:

Me: Hi, I’d like to register for my fastlege
Customer Service: Who would you like to register with?
Me: Well I’m having trouble with your website and would just like to have a doctor who is based close to me in Trondheim.
Customer Service: I’m sorry I can’t do that. Normally people just call and tell me which doctor they want. I’m also in Oslo so I don’t know the Trondheim area well.
Me: Well can you assign me any doctor in Trondheim.
Customer Service: Well, no. I’m sorry, but this isn’t usually how things are done. You need to tell me what doctor you want. I can’t help you.

After much convincing, I finally managed to get the person on the phone to assign me a doctor. Though instead of assigning me a doctor in Trondheim, they decided to give me one in another city. So my first experience with the Norwegian health care system was a pretty frustrating one.

After that encounter, I decided to give up on the phone line and eventually managed to piece together parts of how the fastlege website works. Here’s a bit more about what I’ve learned. While the website is far from grand, you can narrow down the list of doctors to a particular city. The problem that I was running into was that it shows you all of the doctors in the city, not just those that are available. To make things more complicated for me and my limited Norwegian, the way you can tell if a doctor is available is by looking at the last column of the website, titled “Ledig.” Google Translate has “ledig” translate to “free,” which to me originally meant that the column should be filled with some equivalent of yes/no or true/false. Instead you’ll see numbers. One of my initial downfalls was thinking that the number stood for the number of patients the doctor currently has (a zero would mean no patients while a high number would mean that the doctor was stretched thin). The numbers actually tell you the complete opposite–how much availability a doctor has (a zero would mean that the doctor cannot take on more patients, while a number will tell you how many patients a doctor can take on). And it is here that my knowledge of the fastlege website comes screeching to a halt.

One other interesting thing to note is the way that a doctor’s prescription works. Because Norway is hip with technology, a lot of your information in Norway is tied to your personal number, and this includes prescriptions. In fact, you can usually just go to the local pharmacy, tell them your personal number, and have your prescription handed back to you. Your doctor just inputs all of your prescription information online, and it’s accessible to every pharmacy in the country. Pretty neat!

Having universal health care has certainly seemed great. I haven’t really had to use the health care system since coming here, but it’s clear that its very presence (rightfully) gives a good deal of comfort to many Norwegians. Many of my students have said that they find the US health care system confusing and expensive, before proceeding to tell me how awesome it is not worry about their health (part of the reason why I suspect they tolerate such icy streets during winter–they don’t have to worry as much about injuries). And while I am a supporter of universal health care, I will be the first to admit that I cringed when I saw more than half of a paycheck go to taxes. The welfare state certainly comes with a price, and while I don’t think it will ever fully reach the United States, it’s been great to see how well it works here in Norway.

*One neat thing about Norway is that once you have a bank account set up, it’s possible to use your BankID as a login for a number of Norwegian websites, including the one for your fastlege.

Home Sweet Home

I’ve been back in Norway for the last three or so weeks, but a combination of sickness and laziness have prevented me from blogging about the present until now. Clearly blogging regularly is not one of my New Year’s resolutions. Anyways, now that I’ve gotten back into the swing of things I’m happy to continue typing out my random thoughts and experiences.

I will say that one of the things that surprised me upon my return to Trondheim was realizing that I consider Norway home. Granted I was sick when I arrived, so being able to sleep in my own bed and consume American meds definitely contributed to my excitement, but not even my tiny college bed and modern medicine could entirely account for the level of happiness that I experienced when I came back. So it seems a bit fitting that I should take a moment and reflect on my experiences thus far and the reasons why I love Norway:

  1. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking and it’s never far away. I wouldn’t label myself as outdoorsy, but I definitely appreciate that nature is never more than a short walk away. Plus, the reindeer are a pretty huge perk.
  2. As a whole, things function really well here. Things tend to run on time, everything works, wifi is everywhere, and you can accomplish quite a bit (banking, travel arrangements, public transportation, grocery store discounts, etc.) on your smartphone.
  3. Overall Norwegians seem to be super active, which means that I’m guilted into exercising.
  4. Norway is an incredibly safe country. I’ve seen five year olds take the bus without assistance and I’ve been told that people regularly leave their young children outside and unattended to nap.
  5. There is a huge focus here on family and less of a focus on work. Almost everything is built to be child and stroller friendly, there are playgrounds everywhere, and Sunday is pretty much a day dedicated to spending time with your family. I’m not a huge fan of the fact that everything shuts down on Sunday (or is super expensive if it’s open) but it’s still nice to walk around and see a lot of families getting in some quality time by going skiing/hiking/running together. The childcare and other welfare benefits for families are also pretty incredible from what I’ve heard.
  6. Work scheduling is really flexible. It’s pretty easy for me to lesson plan at home and I’m really able to take ownership of my time. Granted I, as well as most other teachers, probably have a more flexible schedule than most Norwegians, but overall work scheduling seems to be pretty accommodating.
  7. The small population. Having lived in Los Angeles and Boston for most of my life, I have to say that I enjoy cities. In fact, I’m pretty used to living in crowded areas. That being said, it’s nice to have things be a bit smaller. The biggest perk: public transportation is almost never crowded. Seriously though, Norwegians think having to sit next to someone on the bus qualifies as “crowded.”
  8. A pretty functional public health system (I promise to blog more on this later).
  9. I’m pretty sure that I will never live anywhere more expensive, which means that when I travel everything seems ridiculously cheap.

Now that’s not to say that there aren’t some things that I struggle with or critique. I mean people go out of the country just to buy groceries and alcohol. It’s a bit ridiculous. But any country is bound to have its pros and cons, and overall Norway’s pros weigh heavily in its favor.

It’s recently hit me that in the six or so months that I’ve lived in Norway I’ve come to see it as home. And the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve come to realize that I would actually be quite happy to live here for another few years. Just living here these past six months has shown me why past Norwegian Fulbrighters keep returning to Norway, whether it is to stay permanently or just to visit. And while I don’t intend on moving to Norway permanently, it’s still pretty cool to realize that I’ve fallen in love enough to consider staying for an extended period of time.