Lidija Odorčić: Dialogue with an Adventist family doctor in Slovenia

In March 2005, when Dr. Lidija Odorčić was named Pediatrician of the Year in Slovenia, it was the second time the honor had gone to an Adventist since this national recognition was established ten years ago. The distinction is awarded by one of the national health magazines that asks people to call in or send the name of their most favorite doctor to a local radio station or a newspaper. The campaign takes place in the first quarter of each year, at the end of which the winner is announced. In 2005, Dr. Odorčić got the most votes from a list of 1,535 named doctors.

“This recognition,” says the doctor, “is not a professional award. Rather it is a recognition for good communication with patients.” One campaign organizer comments, “This recognition is an expression of thanks and respect for good work, self-sacrifice, kindness, and philanthropy.”

When Dr. Odorčić and her doctor-husband moved 20 years ago into Kočevje, a small town with a population of 12,000, there were no Adventists around. Thanks to their positive impact on the community, an Adventist church was established there in June 2002. Slovenia, with its two million inhabitants, has more than 500 Adventists worshiping in 13 churches.

Please, tell us something about yourself, your family and your work.

I'm a physician who cares for about 1,800 people, mostly children and youth. Together with my husband, who is a family medicine practitioner, we run a clinic in Kočevje. We have two sons. The older is in college, studying philosophy, and the younger is still in the secondary school.

Kočevje is a small town, 60 km southward from Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. It's located on the edge of a dense forest where you can still meet bears, lynxes, other wild animals, and plenty of deer. Working 60 km away from the nearest hospital is very challenging.

Let's begin with your childhood days.

I was born in Delnice, Croatia, when it was still a part of the Communist state of Yugoslavia. My grandparents were already Seventh-day Adventists. However, as we grew up, political authorities always viewed religious commitment negatively. It could mean an obstacle in education or in any kind of professional promotion. That's why as a little girl I wanted to become an independent dressmaker; that way I could keep my Sabbath. My younger sister and I grew up in a warm and pleasant home, well cared for by our kind and devoted parents.

I began my education in a music school. Four years later, our local church lost its organist and I was appointed to take her place. When I was in third grade, I had this strong feeling that I should become a physician. I clearly remember the circumstances surrounding that decision. Our family was visiting a relative who had recently returned from hospital. She was complaining about how harsh the nurses and physicians were. I felt deeply for her, and I decided: “OK, I'll become a physician, but a kind and gentle one.”

After the elementary school I went to an Adventist institution with a secondary school and a theological training center in Maru?sevec, Croatia. The school operated in an old 17th century castle. There were plenty of young people, all Christians. There was music as well. So once again I had the opportunity to take my musical classes.

How did you get into medical school?

While I was in the secondary school, I devoted most of my time to music and less to science. Because of a low grade in science, I was not selected by the medical school in Zagreb. So I ended up at the Academy of Music, but a brush with an impolite piano teacher turned me sour, and I kept praying that somehow doors will open for entry into medicine.

And God did open doors. By a sheer miracle I was accepted into the medical school. It was still in the days of the old regime, and from time to time there were classes and examinations on Saturdays. With prayer and some diplomatic skills I managed to get my Sabbath privilege. But in the third year of study, I faced a real hurdle. The pathological anatomy class had practice every day of the week. Each day had a special program, and if you missed one day, you could make up for it on the same day of the next week. That meant a serious problem for me: I could never make up my Saturday laboratory session without breaking the Sabbath. I spoke to the professor in charge, asking for an exception because of my faith. She was not only unwilling to allow any exemption, but was harsh and insulting against my faith, my church, and me. The teacher was a very influential person, a former partisan soldier and a fierce Communist. Although disappointed, I continued to study and participate in all other classes so well that when the finals came, I passed the examination successfully.

Then what?

When we finished our medical education, my husband and I accepted a job in Slovenia. The region where we settled did not have an Adventist presence. The nearest church was some 45 km away. It was good-bye to choir, singing groups, Sabbath school, youth and other church activities.

For many years my husband and I worked with Adventist church leaders, holding health and lifestyle seminars in many churches throughout the territory of our conference. Finally we decided to hold one such seminar in our town also. Soon we were able to have a church with ten members and as many friends.

You both practiced in government medical units. Your husband was director in one such institution. How come you started your private clinic?

With the break-up of Yugoslavia, new borders emerged, and also new opportunities and freedom. First, my husband started a private clinic, and later I followed him.

I enjoy my work very much. When I see the joy on my patients' faces, the victory over their problems and their trust and cooperation in therapeutic measures, it makes me happy. In my office I also meet many babies and children who are brought in for their regular check-ups, vaccinations, and developmental tests. Working with children is always a joy!

If when you were young someone would have told you, that you would be named Pediatrician of the Year in Slovenia, what would you have thought?

Impossible! That would have been my reaction. As an independent physician, I am subject to frequent inspections and supervisions. That is not the case with my colleagues in public institutions. I have to be very cautious in prescribing medicines, while at the same time being careful about protecting my patients' rights. A person playing by the rules cannot be popular. So I was really surprised that the choice fell on me in a competition.

What do you consider as significant principles in your professional practice?

I believe the gospel provides us with some basic principles that are applicable to any profession. As a Christian I must not discriminate between persons. I must respect the integrity and privacy of all those I work with. I must show support and understanding wherever needed, and I must carry on my task with honesty, truth, and love. With such guiding principles, we can all succeed in what we do.

What is the religious situation in Slovenia? What about the Seventh-day Adventist Church?

During the 16th and 17th centuries Slovenia was a Protestant country, but after those years it became mostly Catholic. In recent times, strong secular and New Age influences are on the rise. But there are still people who are searching for the truth. The Adventist Church, though small in number, is very active. I am sure that with God's help and by the involvement of young people who are now in charge, our church will experience greater influence and growth.

What would your counsel be to Adventist young people on the threshold of starting a career?

Priority is what makes the difference between us as Christians and the rest of the world. The path before us isn't a bed of roses; it is rocky, tough, and often a climb. But leaning on God and His promises, we can make it. My counsel is the same as Solomon's and continues to be my motto: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5, 6, KJV).

Zvonko Virtič is the editor of Slovenian church paper Adventistični pregled. His email address: advent.pregled@siol.net.

Dr. Lidija Odorčić's email address: lidija.o@siol.net