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Denmark Exchange: Swapping Nursing Students, Sharing Knowledge

November 19, 2010 — The University of Virginia's School of Nursing this semester added a new destination to its longtime international exchange program: Denmark.

"We are expanding our international program as part of the University's increased global involvement," nursing professor Marianne Baernholdt said. "We have so many students who want to be part of the program."

Baernholdt, who is Danish, initiated the partnership with the new destination.

In exchange for the two students sent abroad, the school has welcomed Anna Lærke Ottesen and Kirstine Luxhøj Sloth, nursing students from schools in Copenhagen. They arrived in Virginia in time for fall classes and will return in December to complete one more project at home before graduating.

While here, they take classes and participate in clinical rotations, live in University housing and go out with new friends. However, they also have the challenge of learning a new culture and being part of the test run of the new exchange program. They periodically meet with Baernholdt to suggest alterations and to receive guidance.

"It's nice to be able to express yourself in Danish, since we can't always express everything we want in English," Ottesen said.

Both Ottesen and Sloth were chosen for the program by their teachers because of their competitive grades and academic performance. They decided to apply because they wanted to learn another nursing perspective and take their education to a more rigorous level.

"U.Va. has one of the best nursing programs," Sloth said. "I think my family's proud I'm going here."

Many students in Denmark choose a career in nursing because of their desire to work with people; they even get paid to attend school. However, Ottesen estimated that a third of nursing students in her class did not finish the program. Since it is easier to be accepted to nursing school in Denmark, people try it out and often find that it's not for them. The students are impressed by the dedication of their peers at U.Va., and find classes a challenging but essential part of the experience.

They particularly like the University's life-size simulation mannequins, which breathe, sweat, give birth and provide practice for procedures such as inserting IVs. This sets their experience here apart from that in Copenhagen, where they don't get that kind of practice under pressure and do not practice physical assessments, such as listening to the heart and lungs.

Although they applaud the preparation nurses receive in the United States, Ottesen and Sloth said programs in Denmark have their advantages as well, lamenting the hierarchy that feels so present in the U.S. health care system. Programs in both the United States and Denmark talk about teamwork between nurses and doctors, but health care professionals seem less divided in Denmark than they do here. In Denmark, there seems to be more interaction within the whole unit.

Experiencing both atmospheres is just what the exchange program is all about.

"We can bring something back to Denmark. Both places need improvement in different areas," Ottesen said.

After finishing her studies at U.Va., Sloth wants to return to Denmark and continue research in nursing. Ottesen wants to work in pediatric care and is thinking of living in the United States for a few years.

They were the first exchange students from Denmark to enroll in the nursing program at U.Va., but they will not be the last.

Currently, Nursing has two students in Denmark and two in New Zealand as part of its exchange program, and they'll be adding Australia in the spring.

"It's cool the School of Nursing does these programs, because you can meet nurses worldwide and share things across cultures," Sloth said.

— By Jone Brunelle

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