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Urgent Care While Abroad: Experience in St. Petersburg

Published: May 3, 2019

Health issues are always unnerving no matter where you are in the world, but serious medical issues abroad can be even more stress. You don’t know if the quality of the health care is going to be what you are used to or even what you need.

SRAS students are supplied with health insurance (as listed here) and should check their student guides or with their SRAS representative for more on how to use it.

During my first two months in Russia I have visited the American Clinic in St. Petersburg twice for urgent care. My experience was culturally interesting and I hope that by sharing my experience I can help ease some nerves about going to the doctor in Russia, should future students need these services.

For starters this clinic is not set up well for urgent situations, and they prefer you make an appointment; however, they are also the closest English-speaking clinic to UNECON.

My first experience with the American Clinic was due to an allergic reaction to unmarked candy. Since this happened in the evening it was easier to see a doctor without an appointment. Of course I was nervous seeing a doctor in Russia, but the staff is generally friendly and the facility is exactly like a doctor’s office in the US.

My second experience was more recently. One afternoon I was having chest pain, dizziness, and arm pain. Previously I had never had issues with my heart, and I was very concerned that something was seriously wrong. So I set out for the American Clinic once again. Initially they asked that I return two hours later to speak with the doctor, which seemed strange to me. In my American brain I thought heart issues would call for more immediate care. When I told the lady at the front desk that I would just go to another clinic in that case she managed to get me in to see a doctor immediately.

The doctor thought that based on my symptoms I might have arrhythmia, so I was examined, hooked up to an EKG machine, had my blood drawn, had an ultrasound of my heart, and was sent home with a heart monitor. This all seemed quite excessive to me, but I agreed because heart issues can be fairly serious. All of the tests came back normal, and in all likelihood what I experienced was a panic attack. After doing some research on the Mayo Clinic’s website I found that symptoms of arrhythmia and panic attacks are almost identical, except that arrhythmia generally doesn’t suddenly start in adulthood.

So why did the doctor assume arrhythmia instead of a panic attack? There is no real way of knowing, but likely part of the problem could be attributed to cultural differences. My understanding is that in Russia mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more strictly viewed as being mental, and not having physical symptoms. Due to this perhaps the doctor did not think about the possibility of this episode being a physical manifestation of anxiety, a possibility that likely would have been explored in the US.

Overall, the quality of care I experienced in Russia is very modern. I would just recommend double-checking a diagnosis with a reliable source such as the Mayo Clinic and consulting with a doctor when you return to the US if the diagnosis seems a bit odd to you.

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About the author

Natasha Harwood

Natasha Harwood, at the time she wrote for this site, was a senior at the University of Montana studying German, Russian, and Linguistics. She chose to, in her final semester of studies, study Russian as a Second Language in St. Petersburg with SRAS. She chose to study in Russia in order to improve her abilities to speak and understand Russian, as well as her understanding of Russia as a whole. After her program, she planed to pursue a career as a high school foreign language teacher of either German or Russian, which would allow her to draw upon her experiences in St. Petersburg for the rest of her career.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Natasha Harwood