I have recently returned from an adventure that has greatly impacted upon both my personal and professional development; Erasmus.
The Erasmus programme is a European Union student exchange programme. Many universities within the UK offer the chance to take part in either a study or work placement exchange programme in European countries. I was lucky enough to spend three-months in psychiatric wards in Barcelona as part of my nursing course at RGU. I spent time in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation ward, a substance use outpatient clinic and a mental health A&E.
In January, I moved to Barcelona and began my clinical placement. I lived on my own for the first time in my life in a lively and cosmopolitan city. I not only navigated my way through a new (huge) city and transport system but I also found my way through new clinical policies, procedures and language barriers. In Barcelona, the nursing training is different from here in that they study generic skills and specialise in mental health or CYP after qualifying. Because of this, all nurses learned all skills so I got the chance to practice entirely new skills such as taking blood, administering IV infusions or assisting in drug education programmes. On top of learning new skills, performing them in another language is a fantastic feeling! I tried hard to learn as much of the language as I could before I arrived, as for my placement it was a requirement. I had days where I wanted to go home, feeling disheartened by failed attempts at speaking to patients or feeling incompetent due to having a different skill set compared to mental health nurses here. I feel far more confident in the physical assessment of patients after Erasmus and I am also grateful I got to practice skills that are not normally available to mental health students. Additionally, I got to experience nursing environments that we do not have in Aberdeen such as safe injecting rooms for drug consumption and intervention and a mental health accident and emergency. I feel these services would be invaluable in the UK after experiencing how they functioned and how valuable these spaces were for patients.
The experiences – who and what you encounter also makes Erasmus an incredibly enriching experience. For example, I had never worked in substance use services before. I got to take part in drug education programmes, community safety initiatives and methadone administration. I never had any stigma against substance use but I also never had a direct interest in that work. I loved my community placement there and that has been an absolute curveball; after years of assuming I wanted to work in acute wards once qualified I have just secured a job as a community psychiatric nurse and I am thrilled.
Another experience which impacted upon me was the use of psychical constraints instead of restraints like we have in the UK. At first I was horrified, but then through discussion with the nurses about what is preferable; physically restricting someone with a constraint or physically containing someone with your body and then commonly using intramuscular medication against the persons will – I realised it is not so simple as to what it the better method. You cannot assume the way you have always done something is the best method and that is something I will definitely take into my career; to question treatments, policies and approaches and not just make assumptions.
Despite the challenges of homesickness and adjusting to a new environment, I carried on and muddled through and I am glad I did. I would recommend it to anyone. It sounds so cheesy but money cannot buy what you will feel and learn whilst you are nursing abroad. I have learnt so many valuable clinical and therapeutic skills that I can continue to use when I return to wards at home. I have learnt that I am resilient, capable of adapting and learning in very different situations and mostly significantly, that I can express care and concern when words fail me. Compassion and empathy can overcome many things, including language barriers.