Well this post has been a long time coming (exactly 2 weeks), it’s been a crazy past couple of days, made even more crazy with my entire host family being on holiday and there being up to 8 people living in our house at any point in time. Excuses aside I’m finally going to catch you up on what’s been happening in Danmark.
At DIS all students are enrolled in a specific ‘core course’, though they’re free to take almost any class they want, each student must declare their primary focus area and complete the core class which includes 2 study tours, a short 3 day one around Denmark, and a longer week long trip abroad. 2 weeks ago my core course (Public Health) toured around ‘western’ Denmark for a couple of days and got a closer look at the national healthcare organization. In addition, we had some fun and sampled a bit of the local culture. I’ll try to give you enough of a taste that you can feel like you actually went along with us! I know, super exciting.
My alarm went off at 4:45am. As we were instructed to be at the buses (yes, in a nation of trains we still took buses) at 7:45 that necessitated my leaving the house at 5:56 prompt. A bus, a train, and a short walk later I was in Frue Plads [like it’s spelled] on a bus with 17 other PH kids (14 girls and 3 guys).
Our first stop was the University Hospital in Odense [Onsa] on the island of Fyn [Fuun] to visit their HIV clinic, which is one of 5 in the Danish system. It was quite interesting to experience HIV treatment in a first world country. Most of my limited experience and education has been with 3rd world cases and emerging problems in Africa and other impoverished area, but in Denmark at least, thing are very different. One of the things they mentioned was that HIV is no longer considered a deadly disease by the government. It’s been relegated to the same level as chronic conditions such as Diabetes and Rheumatoid Arthritis, in Denmark the life expectancy of an HIV patient is roughly comparable to a non-infected person, thus HIV is not of the highest priority anymore. Even though HIV has taken a more ‘pedestrian’ route, care is still provided solely through the University hospitals, no GPs actually prescribe HIV drugs or develop treatment protocols, that is the responsibility of the specialty centers. While this is, at times, inconvenient for the patients it provides tremendous continuity of care and allows them to work directly with specialists from the beginning, not merely if their condition warrants it. As most of the students in my class have a global health interest this seemed to be the most interesting stop for them, and one they mentioned over and over again.
After the clinic we made our way to Kolding [Kulling] on Jutland [Yuland]. We stopped off for coffee and cake at this little cafe´ where they served the cake with sour cream, which is apparently a very Danish thing to do. I ate it, it wasn’t actually that bad.
After lunch we walked over to Koldinghus one of the old royal residences that has since been converted into museum. One of the really interesting things is that the entire historical collection (which is quite large) is privately owned by multiple parties, nothing is contributed by the state. In addition, the castle has seen many renovations and changes over its long history and when the museum was created the architects chose to fuse the original features with new modern design, which created a really cool blend of old and new. Unfortunately as I my Nikon still wasn’t charged I only had my phone and didn’t really take any photos (the few I did are in the Flickr gallery at the end of the post). I did shoot this panorama from the roof (that was actually closed but since the sign was in Danish we couldn’t read it and thus ignored it).
After Kolding we drove (notice a pattern?) to Velje [Veyla] where we met up with a couple of other DIS groups and spent the night in a local hostel. Since the hostel was in the middle of nowhere (Velje is the 4th largest city in Denmark, but I think we were on the outskirts) we spent the entire evening with the other DIS groups and played a large game of apples to apples. I know, it really was that exciting. On the positive side, since there are only 4 guys in my class we got our own room and a much needed break from the rest of our team, the guys are pretty cool and I’m looking forward to our week long trip and spending more time with them.
Friday morning dawned bright and sunny (but not particularly warm) and after a delicious breakfast (which was WAY better then any hostel food I’ve ever eaten) we drove to the Region Syddanmark [Sudanmark] (now you can actually pronounce the title of this post) offices which house the regional health board and department. The nation is broken into 5 major regions which are responsible for running the hospitals and administering health policy to the 96 local municipalities, the region we were in (Southern Denmark) is also home to the most boring presenter in the history of mankind (actually, not an exaggeration). He made a long presentation about how the region is reducing their hospital from 12 to 5, talked about their funding structure (summary: The national level wants all the power), presented some OECD data showing how the US is terrible at healthcare (I’ll save my comments for another post), and effectively put everyone to sleep. Trust me, if you’d been there…. After his talk he gave us a tour of the building (something we didn’t get at the HIV clinic) which involved us walking down a hallway and seeing how part of the building is getting renovated, and how part of it has already been renovated. On a side note, a lot of people use standing desks here, in fact, employers are mandated to provide their employees with desks that elevate. And if you’re thinking they’d never check to see if employers comply, you’d be wrong, they check, frequently.
After the region we drove to Fredericia [Fredericha], stopping on the way for a delicious lunch (If DIS does one thing right, it’s food) at a local Best Western, for a visit with a General Practitioner. Here in Daneland the GPs form a crucial role in health care as they are the definitive gatekeepers to the entire healthcare system. You can only go to the ER, see a specialist, or get a prescription through your GP, everything works through them and every citizen, either at birth or when they get their CPR number, is assigned a GP that they stay with their entire life. It’s a pretty cool system and it really works to keep costs down, but it’s not the most interesting thing to get a 2 hour lecture on, especially when the GP assumes we’ve never heard of any of this before and covers almost identical material as our classes and previous academic visits. Towards the end of the lecture the GP gave us a tour of his office (which, surprise, looks identical to a GP office in the states, but with less staff) and when the group returned to the conference room I hung back and chatted with another GP for about 15 minutes about their electronic medical system (which I’ll save for another post), that was probably the most interesting and valuable thing I’ve done since arriving here.
After the GP we drove back to Odense where we checked into our hostel for the night (which was really small and the lobby smelled like poop) and headed out to find whatever food we could. We ended up at a classic European restaurant, the kebab shop. It was just as good as I’d remembered it from the summer when my friend and I ate kebabs for lunch 6 days in a row. After dinner we headed to a local jazz club to hear Ibrahim Electric rock one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time, these guys are phenomenal, check them out on iTunes.
Saturday was not like Friday. While the day before was bright, clear, semi-warm, and full of indoor activities, Saturday was the complete opposite, cold, cloudy, and semi-frozen. We spent the morning hoofing around Odense seeing all the places his greatness Hans Christian Anderson frequented. We saw the house he was born, the Church where he was baptized, the Church where we was confirmed, the theater he worked at, the Jewish day school he attended, the reason why he was single his entire life (his bear), and the museum that commemorates all of those places, but in an indoor setting, which we did not partake in because it costs money. On the bright side, the Churches were really old and beautiful and what really struck me was the fact that many of the pulpits were placed in the middle of the sanctuary to symbolize the fact that the pastor was one of the congregation, not above it.
After the tour we made our way to Brandts, the local art museum for a little culture and class. Normally I have a love-hate relationship with Art houses, as I’ve detailed in previous posts; however, this one was pretty cool. My favorite part was actually the section designed for kids, it’s basically all the cool places we dreamed of as children, recreated with lots of soft, bouncy surfaces. The rest of the museum was pretty cool as well, some of the displays I really enjoyed, some of them I wasn’t all the impressed with, but that seems to be standard fare.
Overall I thought the trip was a mixed bag, the kids in my class are pretty cool and while enjoy spending time with them most of them are 2-3 years younger then me (even our program coordinator is 7 months my junior), which means they have different opinions on what constitutes a ‘good time’ (hint: clubs don’t count, in my opinion). That aside, the academic portion of the trip was of less value then I’d hoped, most of the visits covered the same material, and most assumed we had no concept of the basic systems of health so we weren’t able to dig into anything with much substance.
In two weeks my class heads to Finland and Estonia for a week, I’m really looking forward to that, it should be an entertaining and educational experience, and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it when I get back.