octors have professional organizations in both Italy and the United States, but their purposes are light-years apart. Where the American Medical Association is basically a lobbying organization for doctors, the Italian equivalent, the Ordine dei Medici, is more like a police force. I’ve visited their Rome office exactly five times and I recall all five visits:
- In 1979, to find out how to get my American internal medicine specialty recognized. That didn’t take long: “You can’t.”
- In 1998, to peddle an old pulmonary function testing device. I tacked up a For Sale notice on the Ordine’s cork bulletin board. No buyers materialized, but some employee with nothing better to do noticed the words “Diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine” (ABIM) on my letterhead, and sent me a registered letter enjoining me to remove the reference. Turns out you’re not allowed to mention foreign specializations. I took the appropriate action for any old Italy hand: I did nothing. The ABIM is still on my letterhead – they never followed up.
- In 2004, to buy passes to drive into the center of Rome, a prerogative reserved for residents and for docs on house calls. We had always had free dashboard permits, but suddenly City Hall announced it would start charging for the privilege. I lined up at the Ordine dei Medici along with hundreds of other colleagues dumb enough to take the effort seriously, forked over a €10 note that they said would be good for ten single city-center entries, and received a receipt that stated the passes would come in the mail. Did any arrive? No.
Good thing I hadn’t thrown out my old dashboard pass.
- In 2005, to try putting my first Aventino Hill office on more formal legal footing. My two partners and I partners trooped over to the Ordine for an hour-long briefing from their lawyer, taking careful notes on his advice. Fortunately, we didn’t act on it – we learned later from unimpeachable sources that he had been wrong from A to Z.
- In 2010, to defend my second Aventino Hill office, soon after we moved in. In a failed effort to get us out of the building, our neighbors called in the Ordine to investigate us — this came after they’d summoned the Carabinieri, the Health Department, and the Lazio Region. The one agency they never snitched to was the IRS – (afraid of drawing attention to their own tax returns?)
The Ordine called us in for questioning, and then mailed a 10-point list of charges in dubious legalese — to which we promptly, humbly, and painstakingly replied. A year later, when we hadn’t heard back, we phoned to make sure they’d dropped the charges. No, they just hadn’t gotten around to looking at our letter yet. They finally did read it, and granted us their absolution.
Three years after the saga began.