In my last semester of nursing school, I took the opportunity of a lifetime to travel to Maribor, Slovenia, for a week to watch universal health care in action and to see firsthand how another country has (successfully!) tackled a wide-spread public health problem. I was delighted to find a beautiful mixture of old-world European charm and modernity, brimming with hospitality and kindness.
We were received so warmly by the students and faculty of the University of Maribor. We prepared and presented health education to Slovenian high school students, accompanied Slovenian home health nurses on visits with patients, shadowed nurses in a prevention clinic for cardiac health, and learned about Slovenia’s approach to public health policy at the National Institute of Health in the capital city of Ljubljana. The students and nurses were just as eager to teach us about their culture and approach to nursing and patient care as they were to ask us questions and learn about culture and nursing in the U.S.
Working alongside home health nurses in patients’ homes gave me a unique perspective on the nurse-patient relationship that I will carry with me into my career. In Slovenia, home health nurses are assigned to families, not just individual patients, so they assume care for everybody in that family should the need arise. They are able to build relationships and, in many cases, become like family themselves. The nurse I accompanied said many of her patients share things about their health with her that they don’t even tell their family.
And our visits did not end once the clinical tasks were finished. In a display of Slovenian hospitality, patients and their families had baked goods and refreshments waiting for us, and they insisted on sharing food and conversation. Patients were interested in life in the U.S. and were often so proud that we had chosen to explore and learn about their country. The nurse I was shadowing remarked that she feels the social aspect of her visit is just as important as the clinical care.
Officials from the Slovenian National Institute of Health detailed for us their comprehensive approach to addressing cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the country. By implementing a robust public health messaging campaign and providing free cardiovascular screening and treatment of all citizens over the age of 30, Slovenia has been able to reduce cardiovascular-related deaths by nearly 70 percent over the past decade.
In the cardiovascular clinic, we saw that nurses had a lot of autonomy in these screenings. Nurses spent up to 45 minutes talking with their patients about risk factors, lifestyle choices and prevention strategies. These conversations took place in an office, rather than on an examination table with the patient sitting vulnerably in a hospital gown, and fostered a very comfortable, trusting dynamic.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit a country and embed yourself in the culture and everyday life, I cannot encourage you enough to take it. This experience will stay with me forever and remind me that there are lessons from every corner of the world that we can use in our own lives and practice.
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