The young doctor of Albanian origin, is the coordinator for junior doctors in AMSI, the Italian association of doctors of foreign origin. She tells NRW about the discrimination that she has witnessed first hand and that she has also personally experienced in the hospital wards.

Born in Scutari, Albania, she went to the Lady of Good Counsel University in Tirana. She then moved to Italy where she became the coordinator for junior doctors in AMSI, the Italian association of doctors of foreign origin. She mostly works with private entities such as the White Cross and the CMP Global Medical Division, as is often the case with foreign doctors who, despite their qualifications, are not able to work in the public sector. Memelli is a specialist in emergency medicine. She is used to being in the front line not only at work but also in the fight for the rights of foreign doctors in Italy.

When did you decide to come to Italy?

“When I realised that I didn’t like my country’s national health system. Doctors in Albania are underpaid and they must often find work in private health facilities as there is little work in the public sector and hardly any medical innovation there either. In Italy, if you have will power, there is work”.

Did your family support you?

“No. First of all, they thought that getting a degree in medicine would take too long for a woman, not leaving any time for me to become a wife and a mother. Then, they didn’t agree with my decision to move to Italy, a context they don’t know. But I’ve always wanted to be free and to make my own decisions”.

What is it like to work as a foreign doctor in Italy?

Unlike other colleagues, I had no problem converting my qualifications as I went to an Italian University. But the main stumbling block for me, as for many other foreign doctors, is that I don’t have Italian citizenship. This means I cannot work in public health facilities and I am not covered by insurance. We can only work as consultants in public health facilities, with no contract.

Have you already applied for Italian citizenship?

“Yes. That would help me overcome many problems… not just with regard to work opportunities. I could conduct research in places that I cannot access with my Albanian passport. I would like to get some work experience abroad but also go back to Albania to engage in medical collaborations there, giving something back to a country which is still my own”.

You are the coordinator for junior doctors in AMSI. Do you often hear about instances of racism?

“I have heard plenty. Most of the time they are about either people of colour or women wearing a veil, as they are both seen as “different”. Sometimes patients refuse to be touched by a foreign doctor. This problem is exacerbated by some political slogans in the country. Some doctors come to AMSI but about 80% of them don’t report these episodes”.

Why?

“For fear of the repercussions at work, because they are afraid that they will be accused of complaining… or simply because they don’t feel secure in the workplace, which is true”.

I have had some problems with some Italian colleagues, I reported it to the medical director because respecting one’s colleagues is part of a doctor’s code of ethics. But what they told me was: there’s nothing we can do about it as we need doctors and we can’t afford to lose anyone.

How has your experience in Italy been?

Personally, I have a great relation with Italy and Italians. But this doesn’t mean that I am not disadvantaged compared to my Italian colleagues. We foreigners don’t have the stability given by a permanent work contract. We find ourselves caught up in a training gap: there aren’t enough doctors and yet it is difficult for us to access specialisation courses. And many times I find myself helping others who are in need”.

Please explain.

“I have witnessed some dramatic situations. Cases of overcrowding and domestic violence, these are the poor living conditions that migrants often experience in Italy. I can report this but I seldom get a response. When foreigners who often don’t have their papers and who do not have the means to pay for my services come to see me, I never turn them away. I do my duty as a doctor regardless of who stands before me and I also try to help them sort out their papers”.

And your colleagues?

“Not everyone sees it that way. I have witnessed cases of true medical negligence by some colleagues just because the patient was of colour. Often, language is a barrier stopping foreigners from requesting the health services they are entitled to”.

Do you take part in initiatives to deal with this problem?

“With AMSI we have developed many projects in this area also by working with media agencies to try and reduce the use of aggressive language.
The objective is to establish a medical system to help the most vulnerable at the international level. The Global Health project, for example, aims to integrate medical research in Italy with that of the rest of the world”.

Translated by Costanza De Toma

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