Health visitor in the Søndre Nordstrand district of the City of Oslo
What is important for newly arrived immigrants to know about their own health and the national health service in Norway?
Immigrants must know about the regular doctor scheme. They have to know that they have to sort out a regular doctor themselves. If they have children younger than 6 years old, they have to contact the nearest public health clinic or the district administration so that the child is registered with the public health clinic. Many children unfortunately fall out of the system because public health clinics are not aware of all the infants in their district or municipality. It is important that parents know that they have to turn up or cancel appointments with a public health clinic. If they don't turn up without reason, and this happens several times, the child welfare service may get involved. Many people are used to going to the doctor only when they are sick so they may not be used to turning up for check ups.
Immigrants also have to know that you have to make an appointment to visit a doctor or public health clinic, not just turn up. If the situation is not serious, they cannot expect to get an appointment on the same day. If someone doesn’t turn up to an agreed appointment, they have to pay for the appointment.
What does the national health service expect from immigrants?
That immigrants learn how the national health service in Norway works, and that they turn up to appointments with doctors or at public health clinics as agreed.
What do immigrants expect from the national health service?
They expect themselves and their children to be followed up properly and to be taken seriously. They expect to be treated with respect.
Sometimes I think some immigrants have unrealistic expectations with respect to the national health service. If, for example, one has a handicapped child, there are many things one has to find out about for oneself as far as rights and possible treatments are concerned.
Many immigrants visit the doctor for minor complaints such as colds and the like, and then think the doctor is doing a poor job when they are not given medicines and the doctor still demands payment.
Have you experienced any misunderstandings?
I well remember when I first arrived in Norway. I had no family here, just my husband. I was pregnant with our first child and I was nauseous, felt terrible, and was being sick almost all the time. I felt that going to work would be impossible. I went to the doctor and asked for a doctor’s certificate. I was told that I wasn’t sick, just pregnant. I heard the midwife in the corridor say loudly: “Don’t given her a doctor’s certificate, she is just lazy!” I felt very alone. I felt denigraded and suspected of trying to trick them to let me stay home from work. It is important for people to be treated with respect.
Another thing, I don’t know if I would really call it a misunderstanding, is that some parents can find it difficult to talk about problems with me. If, for example, they tell me that the family’s finances are poor, they may loose face. This means it is easier not to mention this and simply answer “yes” when I suggest their child should go to nursery school. And then when the child doesn’t actually start, I might think that the parents are not following up on what they said they would do.
What are your hopes for the future?
I would like to see a separate public health clinic for adult immigrants. It would function as a meeting place, both as an open house and for various group discussions. We would work on advising parents, diet, lifestyle, health and other relevant topics. The main focus would be on wellbeing. I think one has to learn to live with some minor pains, but that one can nevertheless live a good life and feel a sense of wellbeing and delight at life.
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