Valeska Beck has worked as an anaesthesiologist at the Inselspital--the teaching hospital belonging to the University of Bern--since January 2006. At present, however, she is on a leave of absence with her son, nine-month-old Constantin, and can find the time to chat about her life in Switzerland. When she is working at the hospital, there is little time for chatting--or even for much of a lunch break.
On a typical workday, Beck leaves her home in Belp at 6:15 am. She arrives at the hospital in time to get changed and be in the operating theatre by 6:50, so she can help the nurses prepare for the first operation of the day. By 7:15, surgery is underway, and she is busy moving from one anaesthetic to the next, tending patients in a series of operating theatres. This pattern continues until after lunch, when she begins seeing patients whose operations are scheduled for the following day. She spends her afternoons meeting one patient after another, gathering information and discussing their anaesthetics. Between 4 and 5 pm, she and the other anaesthesiologists meet to plan their part in the next day's operations. By 5:30, with luck, it's time to go home.
Beck has no complaints about her working day, which sometimes stretches longer than the official 10 hours. Nor does she mind the time she spends on call or working weekend and night shifts. In fact, she considers these demands "quite humane". She admits that the 40-hour week worked by doctors back in Germany does sound appealing, but at this point she has no desire to return to her homeland. She owes her presence in Bern to the learning opportunities the Inselspital offers--and its lack of hierarchy.
"In Switzerland, the senior and junior doctors and the nursing staff work as a team, and there is an extraordinary sense of equality," Beck explains. "That [was] not at all the way we worked in Germany. At the Inselspital, when I call the chief surgeon Sie, it's a mark of respect, not the product of a strict pecking order. In Mannheim, where I attended medical school, a doctor often introduces himself as Herr Professor and expects to be called by his title, even by patients. I don't think many doctors in Switzerland do that."
Beck is from Buhl, a small southern German town near Baden-Baden, half an hour from the French border and an hour from Basel. As a child, she and her family often visited Switzerland, and she has fond memories of day trips to Bern. In...