For my elective placement this year, I engaged in an international exchange to Linköping University, Sweden. The process started a long time before I boarded the plane but it encouraged me to obtain information about the country and the healthcare system, as well as engage in a written application and interview and organise my time with the University, skills that I will take with me through my nursing career. On arrival in Linköping – a small town south of Stockholm – I was met and greeted by my peer student and her mother, who settled me into my accommodation and were available throughout my stay. Which really emphasised to me how good Sweden are at hosting visitors. Although nerve wracking and slightly lost in the first few days, I quickly acclimatised and bought a second hand bike and met other exchange students from all faculties.
After a week’s induction, where we had three-hour Swedish lessons every afternoon, I engaged in a 5-week theory course called Interdisciplinary Perspectives of Rehabilitation. In the UK most of our healthcare systems work on a multidisciplinary approach, so it was interesting to see the differences in Sweden. It appeared to be a more superior approach with different professions working much more cohesively together. We attended a neuro-rehabilitation ward where we shadowed different members of the interdisciplinary team on each visit. As a mental health student nurse, I was able to see a lot of things I don’t experience in my placements in the UK. However, the most important thing I took from this was the emphasis on patient care and their use of goal setting. For example, a speech therapist would have a pre-meeting with the patient before they had their multidisciplinary meeting. In this meeting, which took place every three weeks, they would devise goals with the patient, who would decide what was most important to them in their recovery and a copy of their goals were kept in their documents so that the whole team were aware of them.
I then completed a five-week placement with a community psychiatric team. The staff made a big effort to introduce me to clients who were willing to speak English to me or translate when it was appropriate. I really enjoyed this placement as it enabled me to gain a better understanding of Swedish lifestyle and interact with local people in their community. In Sweden, a majority of psychiatric community patients lived in serviced accommodations, some had their own apartments and support was available when needed and others had more structured support throughout the day. The set-up of the supported accommodation encouraged independence and social inclusion within the community. From conversations with the community psychiatric team, it also reduced hospital admissions and benefitted clients in crisis as staff in the serviced accommodation were able to alert the community nursing staff in a timely manner in order to increase support.
Additionally, I was able to spend time with the physical health community nurses for a couple of shifts. One was a day shift in which we cycled around the town to visits on electric bicycles. I thought this was a great, being outdoors and seeing the town whilst working was a real pleasure. It links in nicely with the Swedish lifestyle in that they appear to be very active, but also promoted a healthy lifestyle through leading by example. The second shift I did was a night shift, where a team of community nurses work 16.00 – 05.00. They had a number of patients on their books which they would attend to and then they would be available for emergency calls, which could be physical or mental health needs. The nurses would assess the patient and then either provide interventions themselves or refer them for an ambulance. I found this interesting as community care was provided almost 24 hours a day and thus reducing the pressure on emergency care services.
My final placement experience was one week on a paediatric ward. I thoroughly enjoyed this, as I developed a good understanding of children and young people’s nursing which I would have otherwise never got in the UK. I spent two days in a neonatal ward, and the rest of my time in children’s emergency and the general paediatric ward. Although it was only a brief amount of time I was able to experience some aspects of the role of a paediatric nurse, which I consider to be an important to my training.
Finally, my time undertaking an international placement in Sweden was not just work. I was able to participate in trips and tours run by the university and that I planned with new friends. I attended my first ‘Swedish Sittning’ – a typical Swedish dinner party, cycled to lakes, visited the ‘old towns’, learnt Swedish, played volleyball, had plenty of Fika, and many other things. I was also lucky enough to go to Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Helsinki. The experience was enriching for my nursing career, my education and for me as a person. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, allowed me to travel, learn new things, and meet new people.
It was one of the best things I have ever done and I will cherish my time in Sweden forever.