Student Nurse Series: A Mighty Nursing Student Abroad

Those of us that have made it through nursing school can empathize with how tough it is getting through. Each semester is a new challenge with the demands becoming higher and higher. Imagine adding a new language and culture to this challenge.

As part of my Student Nurse Series, I recently interviewed a nursing student abroad. Charlotte, originally from Eugene, Oregon, is making her way through a 3 year nursing program in Gothenburg, Sweden. A Registered Nurse program in Sweden is a 3-year program that leads to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Charlotte will finish her BSN and then spend an additional year specializing as a Nurse Midwife.

University is free in Sweden. You read correct!!! University is free in Sweden for all permanent residents and citizens of Sweden. The only cost are books, but sometimes that is even covered by a monthly student allowance to those that qualify. Student debt is only accrued if loans are taken out to pay for rent and living expenses. The following is a glimpse into student life abroad.

How did you end up in Sweden?

My husband, who I met while he was traveling in the states, is from Sweden. I was looking for some adventure so I moved over here to join him after I finished college in the U.S. We then moved to The States for a few years but I really wanted to pursue nursing/midwifery and the appeal of free school was too much to say no to so we packed our bags and headed back to Sweden.

What inspired you to become a nurse?

I originally got interested in this path through a large interest I developed in pregnancy and birth. I discovered midwifery and have felt very drawn to it as a career choice. At first I was unsure on how I felt about becoming a nurse on the path to midwifery but now I love it and find so many fields of nursing to be very interesting and enticing!

What semester are you now?

I am now in the 3rd of 6 semesters. It is a Bachelor of Nursing program that is 3 years long.

Describe a day in the life of a Swedish nursing student…

The schedule tends to vary week to week, some days we will have class from 8am to 4pm and other days will be study days with no scheduled lectures. On the longer days there is always a 1hr plus lunch break where my classmates and I will eat our lunch that we usually brought from home. Lectures are often 3 or more hours long so there are always several fika breaks. Fika is a Swedish institution of having coffee and a snack and is taken very seriously here not just in work environments but at school as well! There is a big sense of comradery amongst my classmates, always willing to help each other out which I really appreciate!

What has your experience been like so far?

My experience has overall been very positive. The first term was a lot of more theoretical material regarding the philosophical perspective of nurses and involved a lot of more academic reading. Academic reading is not new to me, but doing it in Swedish was a challenge at first! Though my Swedish classmates seemed to be in a similar boat when it came to academic Swedish so I didn’t feel so alone as a non-native speaker. It is quite different in some ways from my college experience in the U.S. You only study one course at a time here and will have several different lecturers throughout a course. At first I found that a bit disjointed but now I really enjoy it because they will bring in someone to lecture on a subject they are an expert on.

What are clinicals like?

We have a clinical every semester and they get longer and longer the farther you get in the program. In Sweden each student has their own nurse mentor that they follow/work with during the clinical. I appreciated this one on one training and felt I was able to get a lot out of it. My mentor was very encouraging and really let me jump right in and help out hands on with the patients. I even got to watch surgeries one of the days which was super cool! I mostly just observed but they encouraged me to set an IV on the first patient in the operation room! I am now doing a 5 week clinical at a stroke unit which is very interesting. Each shift I usually get assigned a patient to be in charge of which has been a very good learning experience. At all my clinicals so far everyone has been very welcoming and supportive of students, very positive experiences all around. Throughout the program we have clinicals in a hospital setting and some in a community setting such as home care or elderly homes. I like that you get experience in the different areas where we could potentially be working in the future and not just hospitals.

How do you say nurse in Swedish?

Nurse in Swedish is sjuksköterska which is quite a mouthful.

 Is it difficult caring for patients in another language?

Generally, it has gone well so far! I feel pretty good about my language skills and there are often many foreigners working in hospitals so I am not the first they have run into. I can feel more nervous when speaking in Swedish but I feel, generally, having good bedside manner is the most important, being a kind and positive presence goes such a long way it doesn’t really matter if you say things a little funny.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating nursing school?

I would tell them that as long as you study you will do just fine. You don’t need to be a genius, you just have to study far in advance before tests, no more last minute cramming! It is also important to me to study to really learn it not just for the test because we will be using this knowledge for the rest of our careers. Though I am shy and struggle with this in large lectures halls, try and ask lots of questions!

What advice would you give to someone contemplating studying overseas?

I would tell them to go for it! Not only am I learning so much academically but it has been an awesome cultural experience. Studying in a foreign language does have its challenges but don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to language skills. You don’t have to be perfect to be understood. I have a classmate who is also from another country and she often mixes in English words and no one bats an eye because if they understand what you are staying it doesn’t really matter.

Thanks so much for sharing, Charlotte. Nursing school is challenging enough, but you have added learning another language to the challenge. You truly are an inspiration! Best of luck to you!!

Lori is an American nurse and yogini living in Gothenburg, Sweden. She contributes regularly to Mighty Nurse, AWHONN, American Nurse Today, and has been featured in The Huffington Post. Follow her adventures through her blog, Neonurse, or on Instagram.

Nurse in Swedish

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