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Eight questions to Doris Haltmair, Head of the International Medical Services Department

How long have you been working at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg?

I started working for the International Medical Services department in April 2001. Actually, my first day at work was also my birthday.

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a doctor? Do you have a medical background?

No, I have never dreamed of becoming a doctor. I never thought I would end up working in a hospital as I was studying to be a high school teacher. I finished my education, and at that time teachers were not in demand, so I applied for the job at the Medical Centre - University of Freiburg.

What do you consider a healthy way of living, and do you actually live up to it?

You hear so many things about a healthy way of living on social media and the internet in general. It is difficult to find your way through the plethora of information. So I decided to stick to the basics: eat healthy meals – lots of vegetables, less meat and fish, no processed food, exercise 3 times a week for about 30 minutes and try to be active – take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk places instead of driving. I do admit I do not always follow my own principles but I keep trying and that in itself is important.

Germany is internationally recognized for its high level of healthcare, quality medical care and state-of-the-art medical equipment. There are many reputable medical facilities in Germany. What is it that makes patients from all over the world come to the Medical Center - University of Freiburg?

"Your doctors took the time to talk to me and really tried to understand my problems," is something I often hear patients say.

Many patients come to our hospital for the first time because they quickly receive a personalized treatment plan and a detailed cost estimate for their care. They get the help and support they need to travel to a foreign country for treatment.

And they stay and come back because doctors and nurses make time for them.

Others, of course, come because of the latest technologies, instruments and diagnostic equipment available here in Freiburg.

Do you personally go for regular medical checkups at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg?

Yes, I do. I have my blood checked regularly. That's how I was diagnosed with Morbus Basedow, which was successfully treated with radioiodine therapy.

I get a mammogram and ultrasound every year. In addition, I also have a gastroscopy and a colonoscopy every five years.

Are more patients from abroad coming to the Medical Centre - University of Freiburg for check-ups or in critical condition? Do you remember the cases in which your doctors literally saved lives?

Until 2017, a lot of people came for check-ups. This has changed in recent years. Most people come with very serious illnesses, such as oncological or neurological problems.

We recently had a patient from Ukraine. He had a hematoma in his brain and a cerebrospinal fluid leak. He could not speak and could only lie in the back seat of his car while his wife drove from Ukraine to Freiburg. Upon arrival, he was rushed to the hospital and the doctors saved his life. He is now doing very well, can speak and move, and has already left for home.

How many people work in the International Medical Services and International Business Development department? Is your team multinational?

We are 31 people in total. We have different teams: inquiries, patient managers, telemedicine, accounting, reception and quality management. Not to mention our drivers, who transport our patients from the airport to Freiburg and around the city.

We are very multinational. We have employees from Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Canada, Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and of course Germany. It is a good mix and we work with great passion and dedication for our patients. 

How do you and your staff deal with the enormous emotional strain that comes with people-centered service?

It is indeed a very stressful job, but also very rewarding. Emotions can run high, as our “customers” are very sick people who come to Freiburg to find a cure. Patients are often very stressed and, understandably so, very anxious. It is up to us to stay calm and help them navigate the road to health.

Our physical therapy department, Unifit, offers an "active lunch" break and yoga to help us decompress.

The kind and grateful words of patients who have regained their health in our Medical Center are very rewarding and make us realize that the stressful times are definitely worth it.