Learning from Health Care in Denmark

Patrick Clarke '22
Patrick Clarke ’22

Written by Patrick Clarke ’22

During my time at the University of Connecticut, I studied abroad the spring semester of my sophomore year in Cape Town, South Africa. I worked in the sole public clinic in a township of one million, where we would see upwards of 500 patients daily.  When I came back to the U.S., I worked in emergency rooms and on ambulances in Connecticut, gaining confidence while doing something I loved. I then moved to Los Angeles, and continued working for an emergency department in downtown Los Angeles, serving mostly patients from marginalized communities and people who were homeless. Having worked in Cape Town, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and now Vermont, I felt that I had a breadth of experiences to give comprehensive care to a variety of patients. However, I had never really worked in a setting where health care didn’t have as many constraints (from either insurance companies in the U.S. or lack of supplies in Cape Town).

I was given the opportunity this past summer to work in a lab in Odense, Denmark, during the summer after my first year at the UVM Larner College of Medicine. I spent seven weeks in a country I now view as a dream. When I first arrived, I met a new surgeon who was dismayed that we had to pay for medical school, and that patient care could somehow be determined by insurance companies. We also spoke of the wrath of gun violence in the U.S., and how extremist political views can truly affect every community.  Guns are forbidden in Denmark, as are weapons of any kind in many parts of Scandinavia. This means that the injuries he sees and patient populations he serves are vastly different than the U.S. I felt like I was having more difficulty relating to him than anyone I had met in Cape Town or L.A.

I tried to find a common ground, telling him how proud I was that women comprise two-thirds of my medical school class. I also told him I was encouraged by how committed UVM is to creating a more inclusive, diverse physician pool. He was surprised to hear how many disparities still exist here, as about 50 percent of the physicians in Denmark are women. I was speaking to him as if a country like his was a dream, and he was speaking to me as if everything in Denmark was common sense. Now after having lived there for almost two months, and getting to experience the research and clinical sides of health care in a country with full, comprehensive universal health care, I can better understand how much sense it makes.

After a few more experiences with different people in Denmark, I grew to love the quality of life there. I loved the environmental focus of residents and small business owners; I loved how biking was encouraged. When I first arrived, I was apprehensive about whether the idealistic views I had were realistic. Now, having experienced it, I know this way of life is possible and tangible. My time in Denmark makes me more excited to keep working toward a more environmentally conscious, equitable and peaceful place for all Americans.

Having now lived in these five incredibly different places – Connecticut, South Africa, Los Angeles, Vermont, and now Denmark – I will take all of these diverse experiences and channel them into becoming a more compassionate, kind, and well-rounded physician with the ability to care for and communicate with all kinds of patients.

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