Getting sick is never fun. Especially when you’re an English speaker in a country full of Italians… double yikes! Not only do you not have the support and love of your family back home (unless you’re a lucky duck and traveled with them), but you probably have no idea how to navigate the medical world of Italy. Neither did I. And I got sick. Like really sick. As in I’ve visited a general practitioner twice and the hospital once (They even gave me a wheelchair…).

Let’s pretend this is not the most hideous picture of me in the history of pictures and focus on the fact that THEY GAVE ME A WHEELCHAIR! WEEEEEE! (also check out that sexy Needle Port in my arm)

And while being in an Italian hospital was an experience I will never forget (but really), it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone else. However, if you do find yourself in the delightful position of a medical emergency, take these tips, use them, and cherish them for all the headaches they will save you.

For most people that get sick abroad, a general practitioner doctor is the way to go. And they should always be the first stop on your medical journey. Lucky for us, there are plenty of Doctors catering to students and travelers alike.

But for real. I think IV port is my new go-to accessory

TIP 1: Choose a doctor that speaks your native tongue

There are a few to choose from, so honestly, I chose by closest location. Warning: these doctors know they are catering to tourists so may charge a higher fee. However, take a deep breath, with travel insurance, you’ll be reimbursed. Phew! The doctor I went to was named Kerr, a British man living here.While he was far from the best doctor I have ever had the pleasure of visiting with, he was kind and easy to talk to. One of the most stressful parts of this is the language barrier, and with him, it was non existant.

KERR, Dr. Stephen
Office: Piazza Mercato Nuovo 1, 50123 Florence; Tel and Fax: 055/288055
Cell: 335/836-1682
E-mail at website
Office hours: Clinic by appointment:  weekday mornings and afternoons
Without appointment:  weekday afternoons 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Specialization: General practioner/ Family physician trained in Britain.

A few more doctors in the area… 

Medical Service
(Association Medical Studio)
Address:    Via Roma 4, 50123 Florence; Tel: 055/475411
Fax: 055/4630176
Office Hours: Monday – Saturday 11:00 am – 12:00 pm, Monday – Friday 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
24 hours on call. Can arrange for home consultations

Home: Via F. Crispi 7, Florence; Tel: 055/461-152, Cell: 348/334-9968
Office: IQM, Viale Lavagnini n.4 , Florence; Tel: 055/5038500
Office Hours: Tue 9:30-13:00 and by appointment all the other days of the week
Specialization: General Medicine/Surgeon. Liver and Pancreas Diseases.
Languages: English, French, German, and Italian

Medical Service
Italian Red Cross Medical Service
General Medical Examination
Address: Lungarno Soderini, 11, 50124 Florence
Tel. 055/293801
Office Hours: Monday –Friday   9:00am – 02:00pm
Specialist Visits and Physiotherapy Performance
Address: Via di Camerata, 8, 50133 Florence
Tel. 055/574251
Office Hours: Monday –Friday   8:00am – 08:00pm
For a more full list of available doctors, click here

TIP 2: Call ahead for an appointment

Sure a lot of the doctors have walk in hours, but if you want to save yourself some time and waiting in a boring room with a bunch of sicklings around you, I suggest you call ahead and make yourself an appointment. And it’s easy. Both times I’ve visited Dr. Kerr, I called that morning and set it up for that afternoon.

TIP 3: Make sure you have all your documents

Skip the headache of realizing you didn’t bring your documents when you get there, and plan ahead. You will need your passport and Codice Fiscale if you have it. If you have a travel insurance card, bring that too!!

TIP 4: Bring a card and cash in case

Fees vary from doctor to doctor, so try to look it up ahead of time. Dr. Kerr is 47 euros a visit, while some are more and some are less. I personally prefer a card, but just in case it doesn’t work, bring enough cash to cover your fees. Luckily, fees in Europe are MUCH smaller than in the US. My hospital fee was 154 euros. I had similar tests run in the states and they ran over $1000 dollars. So don’t worry, money should be the least of your worries.


Now moving on to the fun part… just kidding I don’t think there’s a single part of a hospital that can be considered “fun”. While the tips above apply more to general practitioners, pay special attention to tip 3 and 4 for the hospital as well.

TIP 5: Bring someone that can speak Italian

I don’t care if it’s your roommate’s boyfriend’s friend’s cousin, but having a native speaker there is a must. Most of the hospital staff will not speak English and if they do, not very well. Even more, they will treat you as a last minute thought if you do not have an Italian with you. I was fortunate enough to have Anna, an Italian woman, come with me and she was able to translate everything from my symptoms to my diagnosis. Without her I would have had to channeled my inner mime and play a game of charades. And I always lose charades.

TIP 6: Bring something to keep you busy

You will wait. And wait. And wait. And wait. Italian hospitals are not speedy and if you are labeled low priority, you will wait even longer. I arrived at the hospital at 8:30 at night, and left just after 5 am…after opting out of a CT scan, and MRI scan and an overnight stay. 90% of the time I was there, I was sitting in my wheelchair, waiting for my name to be called. I always thought American hospitals were slow (and they are), but this was a whole other level. We sat in the waiting room until 2 am when they first called my name. That’s 5.5 hours of waiting right there! And there’s no cellphone service or wifi. So good luck keeping yourself distracted on facebook or this blog. Instead, bring a book, magazine, cards, or just anything really to keep you from wanting to just rip your IV off and run out the door.

TIP 7: Fake it till you make it

Italian Hospitals label people by their priority. Red is emergency, yellow is somewhere in between, and white is take-your-dandy-time-they’re-not-dying-this-second. Not that this may be the most ethical thing ever, but if you can fake like you’re ten times worse than you are, you might save yourself some precious hours of being bypassed by everyone that is deemed more important than you

TIP 8: go *Late* at night

If you have a slight cut on your finger, or you’re just not feeling too hot, save yourself loads of frustration and go later at night. Yes, there will be less staff, but there will also be significantly less people to pass over you when the hospital deems them more of an emergency.

TIP 9: Get yo pills!!!

This is by far the easiest part of your sick journey. The doctor gives you a prescription slip. Don’t call ahead, don’t worry about waiting. Just go to your nearest Farmacia and hand them the slip, they hand you the meds, you pay, and you are on your way to a much healthier tomorrow!
Buona Fortuna!

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