Culture Connections Pt. 3 – Finland

Brooke Stacey peered out of the sauna door as the rest of the group shuffled toward the lake. She did not want to leave the warm room for the chilly outdoors, but everyone else was going. After a few steps Stacey caught up with the group, now standing on the dock.

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Warm again and all smiles, the group enjoys a Finnish sunset. Students learned the immense value Finns put on relaxation as the stayed at their host’s summer home.

“Okay, we jump in now,” said their Finnish host. Stacey could not believe it. Even though it was spring, the water was freezing. How can this be healthy? she thought as she eyed the water lapping up against the dock. Then came the countdown: “3, 2, 1, jump!” Her legs, with a mind of their own, propelled her over the edge into the coldest water she had ever been in. She came up gasping for air, but despite the cold, a wide smile spread across her face as she thought, This is Finland!

During their clinical practicum last year, Stacey and other BYU College of Nursing students dove into the Finnish culture and healthcare system. Working side-by-side with Finnish nurses, they learned valuable lessons and made important comparisons between their native healthcare system and the foreign one they were experiencing.

“One of the biggest problems with healthcare in the U.S. is that we are problem solvers, not people solvers,” says Stacey, a Virginia native in her sixth semester. “The Healer’s art follows Christ’s example. He cared deeply for the individual and looked at the whole person, not just their problems.”

Each BYU student went out with a community nurse to visit patients. In Finland much of the healthcare is done in patients’ homes—even immunizations. That’s one of the reasons Finland has a 95 percent immunization rate, according to a study done by the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki.

Alex Rahn, a sixth-semester student from Alpine, Utah, remembers driving out to patients’ homes and being impressed by the individual care given to each patient. They visited a person who had attempted suicide, an elderly woman who was lonely, and a man who had recently had a stroke. The nurse knew each of the patients by name and did not even have to knock before she went into some of their homes. She provided them tailored care and got a detailed look into their lives. Rahn felt that in America, these people would simply have been more names on an already long list of patients.

“In the United States patient care is very rigid,” says assistant teaching professor Dr. Leslie Willden Miles (AS ’83, BS ’99), who accompanied the students. “You go in, do the procedure you are supposed to, and get out. In Finland you sit down, have a warm drink, and chat. It is a little more engaging.”

Seeing such quality care for patients made many students wish for a similar system in the United States. A complete transplant of the Finnish healthcare system might not be possible, but the students realized they could bring a Finnish touch to their nursing approach. “We cannot just throw out the system we have—that would be impractical,” Rahn says. “But there are aspects I can implement in my care. I just need to take the time to talk to my patients, ask questions, explain things, and show a genuine concern for them on a personal level.”

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BYU students and Finnish students together for a learning experience. The students start Skyping each other several months in advance to better understand each other and prepare for their meeting.

Getting such a hands-on look at Finnish healthcare required the students and faculty to plan and prepare beforehand. Months before the trip, College of Nursing students paired up with English-speaking students at the Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences. They did assignments together and discussed differences in healthcare over Skype during the Finnish students’ class time. When the BYU students arrived in Finland, they went to Mikkeli and met their Skype partners, who played a big role in showing the BYU students the ins and outs of their healthcare and country.

Just by living in Finland for a couple of weeks, students discovered what a big role the Finnish community plays in the country’s healthcare. While the students were in Savonlinna they participated in the Women of the Castle Run, a government-sponsored 5k for the women in the town. “It was a huge community effort to be healthy,” Rahn says. “The community made a great effort to promote the event, and the students who participated in the race even made it in the newspaper.”

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BYU Nursing students after their “Women of the Castle” 5k. Students saw first hand how large an emphasis the Finnish government puts on well-being and exercise.

Students remarked that a healthy lifestyle is integrated into the Finnish culture itself, with a huge emphasis on relaxation; almost everyone has a sauna in their house and a summer home for vacations. “Here [in the United States] we will vacation to ‘relax,’” Stacey says, “but honestly we go on intense vacations where we go to Disneyland and hit every single ride. There [in Finland] they just go to their summer house and chill by the lake and in the sauna.”

As the Finland trip came to a close, the students realized that they need to understand their patients’ cultures in order to give them extraordinary care. “That is why we did all those activities while we were there,” Miles says. “You have to be engaged in a culture to learn—you cannot just do a train-ride view through it.”

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