Broadening the mind

The land of sauna, Santa and Nokia was to be my home for four months when I was given the fantastic opportunity to study abroad at Helsinki Dental Institute, thanks to an exchange agreement with my home dental school in Newcastle upon Tyne.

I took part in the exchange with a friend (a fellow fourth-year colleague) and once in Helsinki we were joined by three other European dental students (from Ireland, France and Hungary) to attend the Erasmus dental exchange course.

The first few weeks of term were spent undertaking a phantom head course to ensure we were all up to standard, and this proved a useful refresher course too Time was also spent shadowing senior Finnish dental students to help us find our feet in our new clinical environment.

Beginning treatment on our own Finnish patients was a daunting experience at first. Due to the language barrier, communication was often tricky. Not being proficient in Finnish (my vocabulary being limited to the most basic of phrases!) even simple tasks such as calling a patient’s name in the waiting room became complex. However, we got by with liberal use of hand signals and translation via our Finnish clinician. It made me appreciate just how important communication between dentist and patient really is.

The dental techniques and materials used whilst carrying out conservation dentistry in Helsinki were similar to those used in the UK, though something which did feel alien to us as UK dental students was having to hand the patient a bill after completing a treatment plan.

As well as treating patients, during our time in Helsinki we were able to shadow at the city’s oral and maxillo-facial department, children’s hospital and the cleft lip and palate centre.

We also took part in radiology diagnostics and rotary endodontics sessions, and attended the Finnish dental society’s annual conference for plenty of dental freebies!

Due to the course being taught predominantly in Finnish, for the most part we were kept separate from the other dental students. However, we were invited to the numerous Finnish dental student society parties and were made to feel very

welcome at their school.

Of course our trip wasn’t purely academic – we got to be part of the lively Erasmus Student Network (ESN) of which there are over 500 student members at Helsinki University. Events were organised on an almost daily basis, with ice hockey, floorball, sauna and of course the legendary ESN weekly parties helping to keep us entertained!

There was also an opportunity to travel around Finland and to nearby countries. Skiing in Lapland, an overnight ferry trip to Sweden and a visit to Estonia were just a few of the trips we enjoyed. However, the highlight and definitely most exhilarating part of the exchange was a week in Russia exploring Moscow and St Petersburg.

Although we had to catch up with all the missed lectures and clinical time on our return, for me Erasmus was an incredible experience, which has helped develop my confidence on both a clinical and personal level.

To anyone who is ever offered an opportunity to experience dentistry outside your own dental school, I urge you to make the most of it – it’s well worth the extra effort.

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