Review by Ostojić Family: Abdominal Surgery and Anesthesiology in Sweden

27. November 2023.

Vladimir Ostojić is an abdominal surgeon. Together with his wife, anesthesiologist Rijalda, and the rest of his immediate family, he moved from Croatia to Uppsala – a town in Sweden with about 140,000 residents, also known as the Swedish Cambridge. We wanted to learn more about his experience, and we’ll now share his answers below.

Katedrala u Uppsali, Švedska
Uppsala is a university town known for, among other things, a beautiful 13th-century gothic cathedral. It also has a lot of museums, bars, and restaurants. Photo by Shubhesh Aggarwal on Unsplash

How Did the Family Decide to Move?

“During COVID-19, my wife and I together had almost 15 on-duty shifts in Croatia,” says Vladimir. Since they also had three children and no one to help them, the family life started seeming increasingly hard and complicated.

“Another factor was the rising inflation and cost of living.” That’s why Vladimir and Rijalda also started working in private clinics, on top of many on-duty shifts. They soon realized that they were working more and had less and less – both in the material sense, as well as their family life.

“I have to add that the Croatian healthcare system became more narrow over time, in the sense of advancement and development possibilities,” emphasizes Vladimir. Croatia doesn’t invest enough in its doctors, nor adequately reward them. “Because of that, we decided it was time for a change.”

So, based on what Vladimir shared with us, he was motivated to leave Croatia by three main reasons:

  • A lack of work-life balance. 
  • Inadequate salary, especially during inflation.
  • A lack of opportunities for advancement and professional development.

Vladimir and his wife decided to solve these problems by moving to Scandinavia, which is why they’ve contacted Incor. We connected them with other healthcare workers who already moved themselves, so they could get a full picture of working and living in Scandinavia.

This was the key moment – the family definitely decided to move, and they chose Sweden as their new country.

Zastave Švedske
Sweden is the 5th biggest and the 6th oldest country in the EU area. Photo by CAR GIRL on Unsplash

Working Conditions in Sweden

Vladimir mentions that the working conditions can vary greatly depending on the workplace and a city’s size. However, based on his experience, the Swedish healthcare system significantly differs from other systems in the EU, especially the Croatian one.

“Sweden uses potentially the most advanced digital system in the entire world,” says Vladimir. With it, you can see all the details about a patient at any moment and from anywhere in the country. “The notes are also always available to the patient himself.” Doctors, however, rarely write or type anything – they have an army of administrators to do that for them.

On top of that, Vladimir’s hospital does procedures that may not be performed anywhere else in the world. Sweden invests a lot of money into the system, so everyday treatment methods and techniques reflect the global trends. Personal advancement is also almost guaranteed. It depends solely on whether the worker is interested in that, Vladimir believes.

Besides that, he also says that the Swedes are very organized and always follow the pre-set guidelines and rules, which they have for almost any situation that could happen in healthcare. Because of all that, the job is done without stress.

“At work, there is almost never – and maybe even literally never – any nervousness or arguments… Swedes are not familiar with these concepts.”

Average Workday

Vladimir emphasizes that his workday is not necessarily standard for Sweden. For example, he works until 4:15 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and until 3 p.m. on Fridays. His wife, on the other hand, works until 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. In either case, Fridays are shorter in most hospitals because they’re reserved for family time.

Vladimir says that there is a lot of work in the clinic, but everyone knows what needs to get done and by whom. Also, you can always take a break and drink some coffee – Swedes simply adore their fikas, or coffee breaks.

A short overview of Vladimir’s average workday:

  • 7:30 – beginning of the workday
  • 12:00 – 12:30 – lunch break
  • 16:15 ili 15:00 – the end of the workday
Sat na zidu
In Sweden, you never have to wait until the end of your shift to have a coffee. Photo by Ocean Ng on Unsplash

Working in Sweden vs. Working in Croatia

The differences between the Swedish and Croatian healthcare systems are huge, thinks Vladimir. “The system is full of novelties and surprises for those coming from Croatia.”

In the beginning, it can feel complex. However, with time, it becomes clear that the Swedish system is much more advanced and organized.

This organization is evident even from the way they maintain worker records and calculate salaries. Every arrival and departure is recorded, and everything has its own hourly rate. “For example, you’re paid for every phone call you take when you’re on standby.”

Doctors can then “exchange” their hours for money or days off in the next 3 months.

Vladimir is especially satisfied with the fact that he can easily access the most recent methods, the most recent insights, and top education in his fields of interest. Additionally, doctors have almost unlimited resources at their disposal.

“In socialist Sweden, almost no one asks why something costs as much as it does. They simply always do what’s best for the patient, even though that’s usually the most expensive option.”

Ljudske ruke na stolu
There’s still a big emphasis on the good of the collective and equal opportunities for all in Sweden. The healthcare system is, for example, almost entirely financed through taxes and available to all citizens. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

About Swedes

“Swedes are open, honest, and very patient with newcomers,” says Vladimir.

From an early age, they are taught to be snäll, or polite, and they really are like that 99% of the time. In fact, they are so polite that they’ll rarely tell you anything if you say something wrong. Vladimir says that this can be a flaw, too. “I’d like to be corrected when I’m wrong.”

Socializing with Swedes and forming real friendships is, however, not that easy. “It takes a minute for them to let you in their circle,” says Vladimir, so newcomers typically socialize with other foreigners. Still, there are a lot of people from the Balkans here, so you can find people to talk to in your own language on almost every corner.

What About Friends and Family?

Moving to a different country always means leaving behind our loved ones, and that’s never easy.  However, Vladimir emphasizes that you can almost always get a week or two off if you have extra hours. Plane tickets are fairly cheap, especially if you get them in advance.

If you really want to, you can always organize your life in a way that lets you visit your friends and family, concludes Vladimir.

Pas u kutiji
A decision to move abroad shouldn’t be made overnight – but you shouldn’t avoid it out of pure fear either. Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

Advice for Colleagues That Are Considering Moving

Vladimir, thank you for your review! Before we wrap up, do you have any advice for colleagues who are considering working abroad themselves? “My first advice is to learn the language as much as you can. After that, arm yourself with patience.” Every beginning is hard, says Vladimir, especially when it’s in a foreign country.

“However, once you get past that initial crisis, you’ll realize that you made the right decision… or at least that’s our experience,” concludes Vladimir.

Vladimir is one of many doctors who we helped reach their dreams abroad. Find more reviews from our candidates here!

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