VID Bergen has for the last four years run an exchange programme with Azusa Pacific University outside Los Angeles in California
This fall, six students from Azusa Pacific University (APU) have chosen to come to Bergen and VID. After a two week introduction to Norwegian culture, history of nursing, contemporary nursing and the health care system in Norway, it was time for clinical practice for Abigail Zoccola, Alexandra Tadros, Emily Hawkins, Emily Rinehart, Erin Wei og Julianna Rosik. The first four weeks were spent at Fyllingsdalen sykehjem (nursing home).
Positive experiences with personal supervisors
Each student had a supervisor of their own these four weeks, and they were all placed on different wards. Abigail said that they really enjoyed this and felt it was a good move, as they needed to rely more on themselves and got to know the patients and the other people working on the ward. They would “copy” their supervisors and eventually work independently with their patients.
Magny Nordtveit (head of the nursing home) and Angunn Hope (responsible for professional development) asserted that they had not had any problems finding supervisors for the students, and that the supervisors had all volunteered to take on this task.
One of the supervisors, Hilde Jørgensen, was impressed by how the staff communicated with the students in English. It was a bit of a challenge for some at the beginning, but everybody did their best. One of the other supervisors, Simon Aarberg, said that it helped that the APU-students had the courage to be uncomfortable, try their best and make an effort. He said they could see the patients light up when the students entered the room, even those who could not talk to them in English. The students had learnt some basic Norwegian vocabulary, but they expressed that they also learnt much from all the non-verbal communication.
Cultural differences and similarities
The last day the staff at the nursing home invited the students and representatives from VID to share a classic marzipan cake and some reflections. Magny Nordtveit wished everyone welcome on behalf of Angunn Hope, who could not be present.
Abigail, Emily H, Emily R, Erin, Julianna and Alexandra had prepared a presentation of the things that surprised them in the meeting with a Norwegian nursing home. They emphasized how being on an exchange is all about meeting another culture, different mindsets and other ways of doing things.
One example the students mentioned was how the APU-students considered Fyllingsdalen to be a long-term ward compared to what they were used to, whereas Fyllingsdalen is considered to be a “short term” nursing home, for persons either there for rehabilitation before returning home, or waiting to be placed in a long-term ward, by Norwegian standards.
The students appreciated that all the nursing staff, including the students, wore the same uniform, and how the nursing home was less hierarchically structured than what they were used to. They loved the way the staff worked together with each other and the patients, joking, building relationships to create an atmosphere of being at home. Caring for fewer patients also allowed the interns get to know the patients.
Part of the lesson the APU-students would bring home was the way they were encouraged to have interactions with the patients. They felt that they came closer to the patients, and that being responsible for a wide range of tasks made it easier to develop good relations to their patients, even in spite of communication challenges.
– Working without gloves, unthinkable in the US, also made encounters with the patients more intimate. Sitting down to talk to the patients, looking them directly in the eyes, signalled “you are important to me”, Emily H explained when they talked about some of the differences they had experienced.
Julianna underlined that a lot of the things they did in this practice was what she would consider the basics of nursing, that had slipped into the background for a while after hospital practices in the US with a lot of focus on medication, documentation and technical procedures. They now felt they got the opportunity to care more for the whole patient, and also attend to the existential and spiritual dimension of nursing.
Overcoming communication challenges
So, did they have problems in terms of communication? Some of the patients knew English, and the APU-students worked on their basic vocabulary in Norwegian. They said they needed to become more creative to rely on non-verbal communication, but they also realised that language is but a small part in the grand scheme of things.
Erin experienced that it is perfectly possible to bond over a bowl of porridge without sharing the language, and Emily R told us how she and a patient she got close to would enjoy walks without talking to each other, still creating a relationship.
Some of the students got to know the patients so well that they got a hand-written note of life advice in English or a small “lucky troll” as farewell gifts.
Kari Stensletten from VID served as a link between the exchange students and the nursing home. Towards the end of each week the students were obliged to send in a note about their weekly experiences and reflections on these. Kari was impressed about the level of reflection, and has enjoyed getting to know the American students.
Personal experiences and living in exotic Bergen
Apart from the experiences at the nursing home, all of the APU-students agreed that the exchange so fra had been a great experience.
– People we meet do not understand why we think Bergen is exciting since we live in L.A., but really, everything here is new and exotic to us. Going for a hike up Mount Ulriken, or just take a walk downtown is something that is still not an everyday experience to us.
After the internship at the nursing home, the students have two weeks for cultural experiences by traveling around Norway or Europe. When they return to Bergen, another eight weeks of practice awaits, this time in home health nursing.
Curious about visiting the USA for practice and studies?
Are you a VID student and curious about Azusa Pacific University in California? You have the possibility to visit for 3 months of practice and studies the fall term of your third year. Or are you an international student curious about possibilities for studying at VID?
Contact international coordinator Margrethe Søvik if you have any questions.