Spas, Wellness and Medical Tourism…Observations from a Medical Student in Europe
by Susie Ellis
My niece from Germany (yes….the third niece this summer) is visiting at the moment and we had a very interesting discussion last evening. Charlotte is a medical student in Germany who will be graduating next year before starting her residency. She plans to specialize in either radiology or neurology.
I decided to find out what her take was on such things as the words “spa,” “wellness” and “medical tourism” – all terms and concepts I read about, think about and most recently am writing about. I thought it might be interesting to conduct a sort of one-person-focus-group with someone from another country who I have never spoken with about these subjects. Since Charlotte is immersed in the medical field and grew up around the medical community because her father was a pediatrician, I thought her insights might be interesting.
So here are my questions, her answers and a few thoughts about those answers:
Q What do you think of when you hear the word “spa?”
A I am not totally sure because I have never been to a spa, but to me a spa is a place where you go to have massages, get beauty treatments, and most of all relax.
Q What do you think of when you hear the word “wellness?”
A We use the term wellness all the time in Germany, but I think it is an American word. When I think of wellness I think of pursuing health – maybe through exercise, massages, eating well, and such.
Q What do you think is the difference between “spa” and “wellness?”
A Hmmm….I don’t really know. I don’t think I can answer that. They seem quite similar.
Q What do you think of when you hear the word “medical tourism?”
A I don’t think I have ever heard the term “medical tourism” before. But I guess that isn’t surprising because it seems like everything in America comes to Europe years later. If I were to guess, I would probably say that “medical tourism” might be people experiencing medical treatments that are from different countries when they go to their doctor.
Well, I found her responses quite interesting. As our conversation turned into a discussion, here are some conclusions I came away with:
1. Re “Spa” and “Wellness”
We ended up agreeing that generally spas are places where people pursue health, and wellness is the thing they are pursuing and sometimes it will include some diagnostics. Also, what she confirmed (something I have often suspected) is that the term “spa” has a bit of an elitist connotation in Germany (and possibly in other places in Europe). She feels the term “spa” equates with “expensive” and “for the wealthy.” That might be one reason the term “wellness” has entered our vocabularies. It is a more inclusive way to say spa.
2. Re “Medical Tourism”
While her definition of medical tourism was different than the generally accepted definition I shared with her (traveling across international borders to obtain health care), she did find the concept intriguing. We realized that because her country’s health care system provides all medical care for its citizens, the idea of going outside of Germany for health care procedures is completely foreign to her. She felt that the only time she could imagine someone from Germany leaving the country for a medical procedure is if they are on a waiting list and don’t want to wait that long.
And finally…a few thoughts about Charlotte herself. I was pleased that she asked me to share with her the two papers I am writing about spas and medical tourism when I have them completed. It may mean our conversation on these topics will continue into the future. Secondly, I learned that my niece is a pretty smart cookie….having made an early request for residency placement two years from now, she snagged one of the few spots in a top hospital in Switzerland near Zermatt between November and March. Did I mention she is terrific skier?
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