A Doctor in the Family

by Sinziana Demian
30 March 2009

A scholarship program gives ambitious Romani students a chance to join the healing profession.

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania | Watching an older brother slowly recover from a serious car crash a few years ago, Alina Calin, then a teenager, gradually realized she wanted nothing more than to become a doctor. Not only did she decide she wanted to save lives; she also considered this a good way to help fight the ethnic discrimination she says she then witnessed in the Romanian health care system.

One of five children of a poor Romani family from Podu Iloaiei, a small town near Romania’s eastern border with Moldova, Calin has since come a long way. She is now a third-year general medicine student in the northeastern city of Iasi and a role model for her sister, Mariana, who followed in her footsteps at the same university. The two are among the first recipients of scholarships for Romani students who pursue degrees in medicine and pharmacology.

Through a joint program by philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the regional nonprofit Roma Education Fund, Romania became the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to offer these scholarships, as part of the larger international Decade of Roma Inclusion initiative. Bulgaria comes next, as it begins implementing the program this year.

“I’m now motivated more than ever to do well and really deserve this,” Alina Calin said. “It’s an unbelievable incentive for us to give it all we’ve got and work toward becoming responsible professionals.”

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