Up-Close Learning, From a Distance: U.Va., Swedish Nursing Students Compare Notes

What’s it like living in a society with socialized medicine? Why do Swedish clinicians dress at work, and not at home? Are American and European medical record-keeping systems at all alike? Do Swedish students shoulder student loan burden like their American counterparts?

Those were some of the questions lobbed between a class of University of Virginia nursing students and their counterparts at Lund University, located in southern Sweden, in a recent virtual exchange that’s a regular part of a core nursing course, “Foundations of Nursing.” Through the course, students engage in a collaborative learning exercise on a key topic and expand that exercise into other areas of curiosity about nursing student life or the health care system in another country.

The aim of the exchange, said nursing professor Elizabeth Friberg, U.Va.’s faculty liaison with Lund University, is to boost cultural competency and offer students and their professors a glimpse of nursing and health care systems from both sides of the ocean in a faculty and student learning collaboration. It’s also a chance for American students to better understand socialized medicine and education, and note differences and similarities in nursing protocol here and abroad.

“There are many health issues in the world that we all share,” she said, “and by collaborating, we expand on our shared understanding – and solutions.”

Friberg divides the American students into small groups and encourages email exchanges prior to their video conference-like sessions. Discussions are held in English, and each group asks pertinent care and practice questions, listening to and documenting the answers received from their cross-ocean counterparts. The actual virtual exchange takes place over three days each fall, but the orientation, preparation and follow-up reflection occurs over four weeks.

“We talk a lot about cultural competency, which is especially important right now with our population being as diverse as it is,” Claire O’Friel, a second-year U.Va. nursing student, said. “When you hear how other countries handle issues, it makes you feel good about what you’re doing” because it reinforces the standards of care.

It also offers lessons in what innovations might be instituted stateside.

“There, nurses wear no jewelry at all,” second-year student Ashley Belfort said, “and here, we keep ours to a minimum, and keep our nails unpolished and cut short, which they do, too. But they get dressed at work in hospital-laundered scrubs, and with hospital-disinfected shoes” for purposes of infection control. “I think that makes a lot of sense.”

The experience also whet Belfort’s appetite for travel. The Fairfax native is making plans to study abroad for a semester in Denmark during her fourth year.

Media Contact

Christine Phelan Kueter

School of Nursing