After the Second World War and the occupation of Eastern Europe by the Red Army, the new Romanian communist regime ordered every medical graduate to serve in a remote village for a minimum of three years. No one had a choice but to comply with the new, draconic law. Failure to do so would have translated into three years in forced labor camps and the suspension of one’s doctorate degree. Subsequently, they traveled by train, by bus, by donkey cart and the last mile on foot to serve in their assigned village. Without electricity or good communication, physicians had to fend for themselves and in many cases, provide their own medical tools.
Since the average pair of shoes cost more than one month’s salary, poor doctors emulated the locals and walked barefooted. Many blisters later, they had gotten used to it. However, during the cold months, they had to wear the traditional footwear of the peasantry known as opinci. Crafted from pigskin, it fared much better in the thick mud and heavy snow, than any other expensive, urban shoes. Thus, it did not take too long for their patients to nick name them the Barefoot Doctor.