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'A placement abroad gave me stark perspective on universal problems'

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Learning disability nursing student, Joe, stepped out of his comfort zone and undertook a placement in Norway. He’d recommend the experience to anyone.

In my first year of learning disability nursing, I was fortunate to be able to arrange a month long placement in Oslo, Norway.

I was excited about this fantastic opportunity, particularly as international experiences are notoriously difficult to accommodate in the present curriculum.

I had worked in the field for some time across Edinburgh in a variety of services so the opportunity to see something entirely different was incredibly exciting. Three Venrepleier students (which translates as Social Educator and closely resembles learning disability nursing in the UK) from the Oslo and Akershus University College had been in Edinburgh on placement and were an incredibly useful source for ideas of what the experience might be like.

This was followed by the annual ERASMUS International Programme which included Norway, England and Romania and was hosted in Scotland.

These fantastic networking opportunities gave me the chance to get a flavour of international nursing and how the programmes can change quite radically between different countries.

The placement was the first of its kind for a Scottish learning disability nursing student. This is where I was delightfully put in my place by my new Norwegian friends whose education places emphasis on travelling abroad and they all had experienced some form of international exchange. 

With my enthusiasm undeterred, I arrived in Oslo at my placement: The Nordre Aasen Rehabilitation centre.

The centre is part of a Rehabilitation Programme in Oslo connected to Oslo University Hospital and offers specialist competence on child neurology/rehabilitation. It specialises in treatments and services for children with learning disabilities and co-morbid diagnoses. 

The centre consists of residential and day services as well as a brand new modern studio apartment setting for three individuals presenting with challenging behaviour. A rapidly growing evidence base shows this can result in a significant reduction in challenging behaviour.

As this placement was a first for the centre, there was a joy in the sharing of ideas and values. My initial shock and awe was at the complete absence of staff ID/register/uniform and a completely unassumingly trusting environment.

Significantly, genders were treated equally as professionals with no ridiculous speculation that either was less competent or trustworthy than another. I pondered whether there was a line where some safeguarding policies actually impede our clinical practice. 

My colleagues had such fantastic relationships with their service users, fully embracing therapeutic skin contact, play and an openness and comfortability with clients that ultimately, brought me back to the importance of inclusion and equal rights. It was how I would wish to be treated at my most vulnerable.

I would implore all nurses to see something outside their comfort zone and preferably out of the country, to gain such a wildly stark perspective on universal problems. It is not only a fantastic networking experience in our ever shrinking world – but it has taught me a lot about the kind of professionals I wanted to work with, and the kind of nurse I wanted to be.

Joe Somerville is in his second year studying learning disabilities nursing at Edinburgh Napier University

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