Creating Research—On Their Own

Comparing public health systems in Spain and Sweden

(Photo courtesy of Microsoft)

When Ohio Wesleyan students Kassel Galaty ’13 and Kate Johnson ’14 created their Theory-to-Practice Grant proposal about Public Healthcare in Spain and Sweden, they had three primary objectives. Their research would compare public health systems and medical perspectives of healthcare professionals in those countries; delve into social and health services specific to women within both systems; and examine the two countries’ policies pertinent to the World Health Organization’s 2011 campaign to combat antimicrobial resistance. Galaty is a pre-med major who was interested in learning about the public health systems in Spain and Sweden; Johnson, an economics major with minors in English and Spanish who has worked as an intern in OWU’s Women’s Resource Center and was additionally drawn to understanding women’s health services in these countries.

“Our interests aligned, and once our proposal was approved, we prepared for our two-week trip beginning on December 30,” says Johnson. Using Galaty’s family connections in Stockholm, they interviewed a molecular biologist, a nurse who had worked in a public hospital in Stockholm and another who now works in a private hospital, several doctors, and an employee at a nationally recognized sexual education group partnering with the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

“We asked them how they felt about their healthcare system, how it has changed in the past decade, and what they hoped to see,” says Galaty. Women’s health and antibiotic resistance also were issues discussed during these interviews, as were family planning practices.

“We learned that while Sweden is thought to be very liberal, sex education hardly exists in the schools,” says Johnson. While educational materials are distributed, the teaching occurs via the parents at home—or on the Internet. Women’s services in Spain, a largely Catholic country, are limited, especially when matters involving reproductive health are concerned. The OWU researchers also learned that while Sweden has a primarily public health system, there is a push, says Johnson, to privatize the system and little incentive for those who might like to become physicians. Galaty and Johnson observed that funding for Spain’s public health system comes out of tax dollars in an environment experiencing a 20 percent unemployment level. Budget cuts and services are being cut, with more economically-motivated cuts and changes to come.

“In the public eye, the health system there appears to be great, but doctors tell us about a failing system with little incentive for future physicians,” says Johnson. “It left me thinking about health systems in general and how we think about healthcare here in our country.” As Galaty notes, it is helpful to look at other healthcare systems to hear about what works and what does not.

“There are differing attitudes about what to expect from a healthcare system and who deserves to be treated. In Spain, the consensus is that they should take care of everyone, but in Sweden, where there are fewer immigrants and the population is more homogeneous, that’s not so.” Galaty’s future will involve finding ways to develop new attitudes toward medicine and healthcare.

“Taking better care of ourselves is a continuing process, not just a matter of seeing a doctor once a year,” she says. “We are responsible for seeking out our doctors and taking care of our health. And we as a society are responsible for having patience with our healthcare system.”

As their experiences in Sweden and Spain ended, both Galaty and Johnson say they became more comfortable interviewing people and are building off of what they learned. For Johnson, a Travel-Learning course about global poverty took her to Bangladesh in June where she could compare healthcare there compared to opportunities in more developed countries.

“That we could, as undergraduates, apply for a grant, prepare a budget, organize our travel, and do our research allowed us to build confidence in ourselves,” she says. “We weren’t just taking assignments from our professors. We had an opportunity to create original research that has opened up new possibilities for our futures.”

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