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2015-03-26

An Internship in Shanghai Whetted the Appetite

Madeleine Mårtensson and Niklas Ahlstedt, two nursing students at Halmstad University, chose to do their final work placement (internships) at a nursing home in Shanghai, China. For them it was a chance to gain invaluable experience. Furthermore, it was also an opportunity to share the knowledge they have of Swedish healthcare practices.

– One reason I went was to get a different perspective when it comes to our own Swedish healthcare system. It really was a unique experience, says Madeleine Mårtensson.

Both Madeleine and Niklas are in their final term of the nursing programme, where they are studying at Campus Varberg which is a part of Halmstad University. As part of the programme, students undertake, during their final term, a primary care internship; which is part of what in Swedish is known as VFU. VFU can be best described as an advanced work experience where students also have to study the workings of the placement where they are undertaking their work experience.

Nursing student Madeleine Mårtensson with one of the elderly in the Shanghai nursing home.

With 18 million inhabitants – twice as many as the whole of Sweden – Shanghai is China's most populated city. The difference from Halmstad University may seem large, especially for those who do not speak Chinese. However, for the two students, the choice to do their internship on the other side of the world felt completely right.

– It was an opportunity to experience new things – as well as a little bit of an adventure. I did not really know what to expect from the trip, says Niklas.

First internships in Shanghai

There has for some time now been the opportunity for nursing students to travel to Tanzania to do their internship. But this year a new opportunity arose to do it in China. Ditte Sörensen, who is a coordinator at the Strategic Support Department at Halmstad University, explains:

-– Starting from this year the opportunity arose to apply to do your internship at a nursing home in Shanghai, which is run by the Swedish hygiene product manufacturer SCA. Basically, it became possible due to a former student who now works for the company. The contract concerning the placements was signed last autumn, she says.

From left to right: Nursing students Madeleine Mårtensson and Niklas Ahlstedt, Annika Wing-Hörnfalk, teacher at the nursing programme, and Ditte Sörensen, coordinator at the Strategic Support Department. Photo: JOACHIM BRINK

A total of four student nurses went to Shanghai for five weeks to undertake their internship. Internships abroad can imply a lot more work and possible problems for the individual, but according to Annika Wing-Hörnfalk, teacher and international coordinator of the nursing programme, students gain vital experience from it.

– The students have to solve these problems themselves; usually leading to the fact that many feel that they develop as individuals. Another big advantage is that you usually get a greater insight into global thinking – e.g. how to conduct health care and nursing with other resources, she says.

Presented Swedish health care principles

A major challenge during their time in Shanghai was of course the language. Neither Madeleine nor Niklas speak Chinese, but they solved the situation by using sign language and mobile applications. To successfully overcome the language barrier was something very positive.

– One of my best memories was, strangely enough, when we played bingo with the elderly at the very beginning of the stay. Thanks to the game, it felt suddenly as if we had contact with each other and we were able to communicate; despite not speaking the same language. It was then we realised that things would be fine, says Madeleine.

Another interesting experience for the Swedish students was being given the opportunity to present the principles of the Swedish health care at the nursing home.

– For example, we highlighted the benefits of person-centred care, says Niklas.

This could imply, for example, taking the old people out to get some fresh air. Niklas continues:

– It was a great experience for us too. It was noticeable that it really meant a lot for them to get out and feel the wind in their faces!

Shanghai is China's most populated city. The difference from Halmstad University may seem large, but for the Swedish nursing students it was an easy choice.

Treated as experts

An important part of an internship is for students to report and document the conclusions they arrive at whilst doing their work experience; something that was also done in Shanghai. In the case of Madeleine, Niklas and the other Swedes, this meant holding a presentation for the management of SCA.

– Both Niklas and I chose the subject pain and pain relief, and presented several proposals that were cost-effective and in line with Swedish health care. It was noticeable that the people in charge really listened to what we had to say, says Madeleine.

Niklas agrees:

– It was a very open discussion, and our proposals were taken really seriously. However, It was a bit odd to be treated as a somewhat expert. But generally, it's a good idea to make more use of students in this way – it is something that more organisations should do.

The nursing home in Shanghai is run by the Swedish hygiene product manufacturer SCA. Doing their internship in China was a positive experience, according to the students.

Got a taste of working abroad

Both Madeleine and Niklas agree that one of the most important experiences of their weeks in Shanghai was being forced to solve problems on their own – whether it was about getting a mobile phone and somewhere to live, or having to organise study visits to hospitals themselves.

– It's all about facing difficulties and learning to solve situations. This is probably the most important thing we learned. Furthermore, I now know that I would like to work abroad, and integrate the Swedish health care principles in more places, says Niklas.

Madeleine says she plans to work abroad from next year. Moreover, internships abroad have also given other positive effects:

– Previously, I was rather nervous about starting work as a nurse this summer, but I am not worried at all now. Now everything has a much broader perspective, she says.

Footnote: Internships are done in term two, four and six. There is the opportunity for an exchange or studies abroad for five weeks in term six.

Text: JOACHIM BRINK
Photos: MADELEINE MÅRTENSSON (unless stated otherwise)

Previously, I was rather nervous about starting work as a nurse this
summer, but I am not worried at all now. Now everything has a much
broader perspective.

Madeleine Mårtensson about doing her internship in China.

A total of four student nurses went to Shanghai to undertake their internship. From left to right: Madeleine Mårtensson, Joanna Ljungquist, Hanna Pedersen and Niklas Ahlstedt.

It was a very open discussion, and our proposals were taken really
seriously. However, It was a bit odd to be treated as a somewhat expert.

Niklas Ahlstedt about holding a presentation for the management of SCA.

Updated 2015-05-06