Visuals and text by Kathleen Boehl
Several large windows allow the bright sunlight to shine into the waiting room as two women sit and wait for their chance to meet with the doctor. Travel and health magazines cover the small tables next to the large cushioned chairs. Eyes can't help but survey the numerous body-diagrams and framed medical degrees that decorate the walls.
As the office door opens, a friendly and familiar voice welcomes the next patient. Each greeting consists of a handshake or hug followed by a kiss on each cheek. It is comforting to see the closeness that this doctor and patient share.
For the last 10 years Dr. Gabriella Benedetti, 51, has practiced general medicine for Italy's national health service in Cagli and continues to enjoy her profession because of the strong relationships she shares with her patients. The relationships between patients and medics in small towns are very different from those in Italy's larger cities. Benedetti lives among her patients in Cagli so she feels that she knows her patients very well and they in turn feel comfortable having her as their doctor.
With such a strong patient-doctor relationship, Benedetti's patients come to her for every little thing because they see her as a family doctor. In a larger city, however, people would go to several doctors for each specific problem. If a patient is too sick to come to her office Benedetti will go to a patient's home at any time. She is always on call, receiving phone calls at all hours of the night. Since she is so close to her patients she feels accessibility is key, and there is almost nothing she wouldn't do for her patients.
She treats both men and women and feels that the majority are under the age of 60 but has noticed a larger number of female patients. Benedetti thinks that many female patients feel comfortable having her as their doctor because they know she also practices gynecology.
Benedetti graduated in 1987 from the Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona. Having received her medical degree, she has continued to study in Ancona to increase her medical knowledge, and she also attends several conferences where she meets with other Italian doctors. Benedetti is one of five doctors in Cagli, where she practices general medicine, under the Italian health care system. She also has a private office 25 kilometers from Cagli in the commune of Piobbico, where she specializes in gynecology.
In Cagli, Benedetti has office hours Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and on Tuesday from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. She also works on Saturday once a month.
Having lived with her family in Cagli since 2001, Benedetti spends most of her time in her Cagli office but she also owns a house in Piobbico where she occasionally sleeps depending on her appointment schedules in the two towns. Benedetti discloses that she earns around €4,000 per month and discusses the differences between owning her own office and working in a hospital. Unlike doctors who work in hospitals in Italy, she has to spend a portion of her income on rent, the telephone, and electrical bills as well as other costs that the government would cover.
Benedetti says that ever since she was little, her older cousin inspired her to become a great doctor like him. Determined to succeed as a female doctor in Italy, she spent most of her adult years studying to improve her skills so she married much later than most of her friends but she is now very successful doctor and has a beautiful 17-year-old daughter.
Even though Dr. Benedetti loves her profession very much she notices that she has less time than she would like to spend with her daughter and husband because of her busy work schedule. She finds herself waking up for work around 6 a.m. each morning and retiring for the evening around 9 or 10 p.m. because she is so exhausted. Her husband is also a very hard worker and spends most of his day in his accounting office in Cagli.
Even though the family does not gather for breakfast or lunch during the week, Benedetti stressed the importance of their family dinners each night. This time is very important because during the day the family rarely gets to see each other except for lunches together on Saturdays and Sundays.
Also, with little time for herself, she notes that unlike many other women her age, she does not have the pleasure of having time to relax often or read a book. In Italy the doctors are given 15 days vacation each year, but each doctor can choose the dates of their vacations. Generally, when she has vacation time she stays in Italy and does not travel far because her family has a vacation house by the sea. However, for one week in July each year she treats herself to a trip to Ischia Island, on the Gulf of Naples, where she goes to indulge in hot baths, massages, and other spa specialties.
With much of her life devoted to her love of medicine, Dr. Benedetti thinks that the health care system in Italy works well but admits that the system is not perfect. Although medical facilities are considered to be adequate for emergencies, many public hospitals are overcrowded and underfunded. The people who do not pay for private health care in Italy are put on waiting lists to receive medical attention. These lengthy waiting lists are mostly due to staff shortages or lack of hospital facilities, she says. In Benedetti's eyes, many improvements could be made to the system, but she feels that in general it is working well in Italy.
Dedicated to help serve Italian citizens, she is just one example of someone who has devoted her life to improving the health of others.