Buenos Dias! Last month Marilyn and I traveled to Spain on a two-week educational tour,   accompanied by 30 nursing students, parents, faculty and alumni of Clarkson College in Omaha. Marilyn, an Associate Professor of Nursing, and another professor teach courses in International Healthcare and Humanities through Clarkson’s Travel Abroad program.
 
I thought you, my readers, would be interested in Spain’s healthcare, because of the ongoing revamping of U.S. healthcare, and its agriculture, because many of us are involved in agriculture and related activities. We all like to eat! In Spain, oh my, the food was superb.
 
As we toured portions of the countryside from our home bases in Madrid and Barcelona, we had an opportunity to learn a bit about agriculture in Spain by talking with folks at various levels of production, from farmer to marketer to consumer.
 
We took a look at the Spain’s healthcare system, as we visited hospitals, both old and new. We spoke with healthcare providers, educators and administrators. Residents of the country may purchase private insurance or participate in a publicly funded option. The latter provides healthcare to all persons living in Spain, including foreigners, if they pay taxes to Spain or have health insurance that is acceptable to Spanish providers.
 
Most hospitals and clinics serve private and publicly funded patients. Everyone said the quality of care is about equal, regardless of the method of payment. There is no waiting for emergency or outpatient care. 
 
Waiting for elective procedures is the most common complaint. If the need becomes urgent it is treated immediately. The death rate of persons who are waiting for scheduled care in Spain is one third that of persons in the U.S. who are waiting for scheduled appointments, surgery or other treatment procedures.
 
The cost for healthcare in Spain is currently 9 percent of their GDP; in the U.S. healthcare comprises 14 percent of the GDP.   Life expectancy in Spain is 81.2 years, which is second among European countries and 7th overall, even though many people smoke tobacco. Life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.9 years, which currently ranks 50th.
 
Healthcare education in Spain takes place in a system much like in the U.S.  Upon completion of their degree and licensure, nurses and physicians can work anywhere in the European Union, if the government of the specific country where they want to work is seeking workers.
 
What about Spain’s agriculture? During years of favorable precipitation and a variety of other factors, Spain is a net exporter of food, but often the country must purchase more than it sells. Olives, citrus, fine wines and cheeses, cork and pork products are particularly attractive as export items.
 
It surprised me that per capita consumption of pork in Spain is greater than any other European country, until I tasted their pork. Spanish farmers produce two main types of pork. The more common is an animal that is similar to most American swine, of mainly Yorkshire, Hampshire or Duroc breeding and crosses. They are farrowed indoors, raised in large pens and fed a diet similar to American pigs.
 
When these pigs are slaughtered, their hams weigh about 20 pounds and sell for about 40 Euros, which is currently about $52. The hams are cured for 6 to 24 months.
 
Iberian pork, the other type of pig raised in Spain, are black, long-legged, narrow-bodied animals with coarse hair and teeth.  Most are farrowed and raised in pastures. While some are allowed access to grain feeds, others exist entirely by grazing and foraging. 
 
Iberian hogs are finished on acorns which they find while ranging freely. The greater the portion of nuts in their diet, the more expensive they are. These hogs are older when butchered and their hams are cured for up to 3 years. Their meat is low in saturated fat and very tasty. A 20 pound ham might cost $200 Euros ($260) in Spain and two-four times that in the U.S. These are the hams used for prosciutto. Restaurants, as well as the markets where everybody shops for their daily food, display the hams hanging from rafters.
 
Every traveler should visit the town and city marketplaces. They display the local culture, the people, the cuisine and they set most prices. We marveled at the range of food items, from tripe to every kind of fruit, vegetable, drinks and vendors. 
 
Consider ways you can travel affordably. Marilyn and I have traveled outside the U.S. a lot, sometimes on our own and sometimes with prearranged tours such as our trip to Spain. It is convenient to let an experienced guide or company arrange the trip and accommodations.
 
Many of our agricultural and professional organizations, institutions of higher education, alumni and church groups offer reasonably priced tours. International conferences are wonderful venues. Bon voyage!


– By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.