Romy Chung in Germany
Armed with a Fulbright Scholarship, an interest in medical journalism, contacts
with Austrian journalists, and a hard-won proficiency in German learned during her third
year of medical school, Romy Chung set off on a journey that brought her greater empathy
for patients, their stories, and a concern for the whole person. The focus of her study
was the treatment of cancer patients with European-style universal health care as compared
to care received in the United States. Here is Romy's experience in her own words:
"I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth,
sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug."
From the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath
Whether in the exam room as a medical student or in an interview with video camera in tow,
the focus is always on the patient's story – to think about what has happened, and
ultimately, to surmise the future. In my life as a medical student, soon to be entering
my final year of medical school, I try to taper the story down to a single, clean diagnosis.
But in this other life, as a Fulbright scholar and documentary filmmaker, I sit in front
of my computer, editing my video footage that compares the experience of cancer patients
in the Austrian and American health care systems and I know that I want the reverse.
I want these stories to expand and to comment on something larger than themselves.
I have become very good friends with the focus of my Austrian documentary segment, a
carcinoma-sarcoma patient. She is forced to ponder her mortality regularly: her
tri-monthly blood tests scour for signs of cancer relapse. But it was wonderful to
capture how it is truly life, not death, which occupies her. For the last four months,
we have been making monthly trips together to see something new in Austria and the
surrounding areas. In the course of these trips, I have filmed Styrian winelands,
Alpine mountains, Grazian restaurants, Slovenian churches.
In Austria, the land known for opera, Habsburgs, Arnold, and most importantly for my
project, universal health care, I did not know exactly what to expect from my cancer
patient interviews. This Fulbright full research grant and the connections I had in
the media and health system here gave me the opportunity to see medicine differently,
to look at the patient more than the diagnosis. As I readied myself to talk to some
very sick people early in the year, I never expected that this project, in turn, would
make me so much healthier and so much more open to life and its rewards. It has.
I'd like to give credit to my mentors:
Michael Fleischhacker, Director and Editor-in-Chief, Die Presse
Michael Krainer, Oncologist, Medical Universität Wien
Thomas Bauer, Professor, Journalism, Universität Wien
Fulbright Full Research Scholar, Medical Journalism
University of Vienna, 2007-08 Academic Year