To Sweden for the Aurora Borealis!

In Autumn 2017, Matilda Salta undertook an exchange in Umeå, Sweden

Being raised and education in a southern European country, Portugal, when I saw the option to undertake an internship so far north in Europe, it immediately became my first choice for an EFPT Exchange Program application. Personally, the choice was also influenced by my wish to experience living in a Scandinavian country, and the possibility of seeing an Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights). Professionally, I heard great things about the work performed by Scandinavian Psychiatrists, and was curious to see how certain cultural factors may influence the presentation of patients with psychiatric illnesses. My greatest interests in Psychiatry are psychopathology and somatic treatments. The inspiration to go to a country where I don’t understand the language had to do with my readings about the psychiatric practice of some “classic” psychiatrists, that had travelled around Europe to get to know and observe patients in different countries and asylums. The language was not barrier because my purpose was to observe that patients’ behaviour, attitudes, and the various avenues of nonverbal communication. I wanted to work in an acute patient setting in a neuropsychiatric ward, and that was what happened – I had, for two weeks, the possibility to join the work done in Ward 2 in Umeå Psychiatry Department, which admits psychotic patients with several different illnesses.

At Umeås City Park, from left to right, Dr. Suat Yalçin, Dr. Ricardo Ribeiro, me and Dr. Anaïs Carreras (photo by Dr. Suat Yalçin)

It all went great, from the beginning to the end of the stay: the Local Coordinator, Dr. Matilda Naesström, was of amazing availability to host me and mycolleagues, having planned our internship and social activities in a very creative way. And, what at first sounded strange “what could you possibly learn in a ward with patients whom you cannot understand?” turned out great. My supervisor, Dr. Peter Asellus got the idea. “So, you’re interested inphenomenology?”. Exactly!

Umeå is a beautiful city, the city of  birches. One of my personal life dreams came true when we had the luck to watch an Aurora Borealis (weather and activity were matching for two nights during my time there). I met great colleagues from Sweden, one from Portugal, from France and from Turkey, all very nice and fun to be around. Saw some beautiful landscapes in the area called HighCoast, two hours driving far from Umeå.Went to nice restaurants and the best cocktail bar I’ve ever been. And finally got to work with a very competent team in the ward. I discussed some interesting perspectives on psychopathology, psychiatric nosology and treatment approaches. My main goal was achieved: I definitely consider myself more experienced in psychopathology learning, especially because I ascertain the patients’ symptoms, which I obviously couldn’t verbally obtain, integrate them into syndromes and discuss the differential. I was amazed (but not that surprised) on how much objective clinical information one can obtain just by watching the patients behaviour. Also I got to learn how the Department is organized, and how psychiatric learning and practice works in Sweden.

The Aurora!

In conclusion, I couldn’t stop recommending this place to all my colleagues in Setúbal Hospital Centres’ Psychiatry Department, where I work. And even got the desire to return, and even possibly emigrate to Sweden!

Best regards to all the EFPT Team and thank you for your important work!