Uninsured Surgeon: The Irony of Health Care Crisis



The author, an orthopedic surgeon, recounts his experience of transitioning from having health care in Australia to facing a lack of coverage in the United States. After his fellowship in Sydney, he moved back to the US with his family and faced a month-long gap in health insurance coverage, which proved stressful when his family members fell ill. He highlights the universal nature of Australian health care, noting the peace of mind afforded when access to care isn’t a worry, and suggests the US could learn from Australia’s two-tiered system where everyone has access to public health care.

The Personal Struggle of an American Orthopedic Surgeon with Health Care Access

Returning from Sydney to Dallas was a long journey, especially with a restless one-year-old. But as an orthopedic surgeon, I wasn’t solely focused on the flight duration. I was returning to the U.S. without health care coverage for my family.

During our seven months in Sydney, where I completed my second surgical fellowship, every moment felt precious. We reveled in the novelty of our son taking his first steps in our Sydney apartment, and the grandeur of the isolated Outback. But what really struck me was Australia’s universal health care system.

Although I had studied the differences between the U.S. and Australian health care systems, living it was another story. Working in public and private hospitals, I saw firsthand the relief of not having to worry about access to care. Yes, the system had its flaws and wait times, but every Australian had access to public health care, even when switching jobs.

As our 18-hour flight continued, I reflected on these contrasts, especially considering my son’s upcoming routine pediatric vaccines in Texas. My wife and I also needed primary care appointments and dental work. However, we wouldn’t have health insurance until I began working, leaving us with a one-month gap with no coverage.

Being without health insurance was stressful. In that one-month period, our circumstances were far from hypothetical. My son needed vaccines, my wife and son fell ill, and I also ended up requiring emergency medical attention. Moreover, just before my new employment and health insurance began, my son had another ear infection. Returning to the U.S. was harsher on our finances and emotional wellbeing than we’d anticipated.

I had never before been without health insurance. If I was younger and single, perhaps I wouldn’t have been as concerned. But the apprehensions during transit, coupled with multiple health issues on arrival, highlighted the plight many Americans face. Australia’s citizens don’t have this fear. The question isn’t about “superior” health care; it’s about having access at all. Although I don’t have a definitive solution, considering the Australian model could be a start.

For further information on this orthopedic surgeon’s experiences, visit Adil Shahzad Ahmed.

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