‘I am a model in my spare time. My girlfriend told me that I was good looking and that I should send some photos, so I did.’ He could be a character on Grey’s Anatomy, because this tall, dark, bearded man (he looks like Dutch TV host Arie Boomsma) is not only a model, but also training to become an orthopedic surgeon. ‘Some people think that because I’m a doctor I have to be serious all the time, but I’m just a normal human being, so that’s impossible. The modeling is fun and I get to meet a lot of different people. Most of them are freaks, but that’s what makes it interesting!’
Martin is still young, only 28 years old, and has about six years of training left. I mention that the people from medical school are all students for life. ‘I guess that’s true,’ he laughs. ‘I’ll be finished when I’m 33, but I don’t mind. I will be a bit older than the rest though, because I joined the Red Cross after high school. In Austria there are two things you can do after you’re finished with school: join the military or do some voluntary social work. I chose the latter.’
Is that an odd choice?
‘No not really. You can choose whatever you want, so I decided to join the Red Cross because I liked the medical aspect. That’s where I became interested and after that year at the Red Cross I knew I wanted to become a doctor.’
It’s quite difficult to become an orthopedic surgeon in Holland, because it’s very popular. Is it the same in Austria?
‘Yes, it’s about the same. One of the advantages of being an orthopedic surgeon is that it’s possible to start your own private practice; you don’t have to spend your whole life within the four walls of a hospital. You need some money though, because it’s a big investment. You can fulfill the operating requirement in a hospital. It’s a normal combination to switch between your clinic and the hospital.
How is health care arranged in Austria?
‘Once a year everybody pays the same small amount of health insurance. Everybody is able to go to the hospital and receive treatment. If you go to a private clinic you have to pay the full amount, of course, so only rich people go there. Most people go to the regular emergency room, but that’s also a problem in Austria, because they are getting way too crowded. Everybody goes straight to the hospital, even if they only have a little cut, because they think the treatment will be better there. But that’s not always true. It’s not good for the health system; it’s making it really expensive. We need a filter, because the system is suffering and we don’t have enough doctors right now.’
‘In 2006 the European Union decided that everybody should have the chance to study medicine. But in Germany they have a limit on the number of students admitted to medical school each year. So a lot of Germans come to Austria to study medicine, because here there is no limit. But after they have finished med school, they go back to Germany. That’s why we have a shortage of doctors. And the government won’t do anything about it,’ he says, visibly frustrated.
‘Because we’re a part of the European Union, so we have to live by the rule that everybody must have the possibility to study everywhere. But I don’t get why there’s a limit then. The EU should tell Germany to review their system and get rid of that rule. It doesn’t make sense to me, because it’s harming Austria.’
I notice that Martin has an injury of his own. His finger bends in a weird way. ‘I broke my joint when I was playing a soccer match. I like sports; I played basketball, football and tennis. I’m currently too busy for a team sport, so I run and go to the gym. Getting injured is the risk of playing a sport. My love of playing sports definitely influenced my decision to become an orthopedic surgeon.’
Vienna used to be less multicultural then it is now, right?
‘Yes, the last 8 years Vienna has changed a bit, because we now have way more cultures here. There are a lot of people from Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. Because of that the lifestyle has changed a bit. It used to be quieter here and the restaurants were ‘normal’. The immigrants wanted to make it more like home, so they opened a lot of international restaurants and bars. I think it’s good. I like this multicultural vibe and I think it’s interesting to talk to people from different countries and different cultures.’
Did you vote for the European Union last May?
‘No. I actually don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m really pissed off about politics in Austria. They promise you something but there are a lot of lies. I think it’s the same in the European Union. Every day you read in the papers about who doesn’t get along with whom and other stories like that. It’s more about people than about ideas.’
Does the EU play a part in your life in any way?
‘I don’t like the fact that the richer countries in the EU, including Austria, had to pay a lot of money to the southern countries like Greece and Spain, because they were having a financial crisis. I don’t want to judge them, but everybody knows about the work mentality of these countries. They don’t like to work very hard and they care more about their siestas. I think that’s a big part of their financial problems and I don’t like it that we had to pay to help them out. I get it, because we are part of the EU and we have to help each other, but I don’t like it. It’s not fair.’
Do you think we should cooperate more in the European Union?
‘No, I think it’s too hard. There are still too many differences, so I don’t think it will work.’
Why do you think Austria is so highly ranked?
‘It’s visible in Vienna. There are 1.7 million citizens, and everybody has opportunities. It’s not too crowded and there are a lot of free spaces and parks. You can have a good time; the public transport is really good, and health care as well. And it’s not too expensive.’ I remind him about the shortage of doctors. ‘Haha, yes, but that might be the only bad thing. That’s why it’s better for me to stay here in Vienna, because I like it so much. Right now it’s the best place to live for me, but maybe that will change in the future.’
(interview by Mark, written by Sophie Markvoort)