Living in Denmark has its perks. Health care is universal, paid over taxes and overseen by the Ministry of Health. Can you believe that our Minister of Health, Astrid Krag, was born in 1982? Where else does such a young politician get the opportunity to have such an important post in national government? There is a big push for innovation, quality and equal access. You can see the results of dialogue and debate implemented on a daily basis. I am proud to work in the Danish health care system, and I am thankful that I can get healthcare without worrying about whether or not I can pay for it. I can even have my transportation costs reimbursed.
Denmark is known for cutting-edge research, high-quality pharmaceuticals and welfare and rehabilitation technology. There was a health expo called Sundhedsdagene (The Health Days) in Copenhagen from March 22-24. It was organized by Region Hovedstaten (The Capital City Region), and its purpose was to bring ordinary citizens in direct contact with medical professionals and policy makers in order to promote awareness and dialogue.
There were a couple hundred health care personnel including doctors and surgeons in all specialties, nurses, microbiologists, lab techs, dietitians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, patient advocates and first responders. There were booths for diabetes, asthma, arthritis, dementia, osteoporosis, heart disease, sexual health, cancer, allergies and much more. It was possible to take screening tests for blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, eye disease, allergies, asthma, depression, anxiety and stress. You could even get an ultrasound scan of your heart! Regional politicians in charge of health care were in a booth in the middle of the expo, available for discussion and to take suggestions. The expo took place in a huge hall around the corner from Copenhagen Central Station. There were over 1000 people in the hall at any given time, and thousands of people participated over the three days.
I went all three days. So much to see! So much to try! So many experts to talk to! Such a great opportunity to network with pediatric occupational therapists! I took my sister with me two days, my husband and big kids two days and my little one was along one of the days. Kids could get hands-on experience. There was a teddy-bear hospital where kids could learn to take a medical history and vital statistics on plush dolls. They were able to apply a cast, sew stitches and bandage injured teddy-bears. There were booths where they could operate a mini-scanner, see x-ray machines, learn about hygiene by looking at bacteria under a microscope and seeing their hands under blue light that showed where there were bacteria. Physical and occupational therapists set up a fun motor skills activity area. The nutrition and exercise booth had stationary bikes and steppers so that kids could exercise until they burned the amount of calories in a small pack of gummy bears or an apple which they then earned.
My son loved all the hands-on activities. He cut up and investigated pig hearts and brains. He was fascinated when he saw pigs’ lungs fill with air. He let himself get an allergy skin prick test, which showed no allergies (Unlike mine, which showed I’m allergic to everything I was tested for). He loved the labor and delivery area, where midwives let kids play with life-size “pregnant” torsos and deliver “babies” the natural way. The midwives had a bunch of real human placentas and were happy to show them in and out. (Midwives deliver babies in Denmark. You only get an obstetrician if you need a C-section or are a very high risk patient.) My son poked around one of the placentas and cut an umbilical cord. At the NICU booth, he “took care” of a micro-preemie in an incubator, a “baby” in a respirator and a “baby” in a bili-light box. My three kids and my nephew loved exploring the ambulances from the inside and pressing buttons.They got to watch a medical helicopter land and saw how emergency response personnel (paramedics, firefighters, police) handle a car crash.
My older daughter was mainly interested in the innovation and technology section, where kids could draw a health-related invention and give their drawings to people who work for a medical technology company. Kids could also enter a contest where they draw the hospital of the future. My daughter spent a good deal of time drawing, talking to techies and playing with prototypes. Her drawing won! The prize: two movie tickets. We looked at surgical robots used for laparoscopic surgery. There was a DaVinci! Kids could also use the laparoscopic equipment to remove sweets and raisins from a covered tray meant to represent a torso. My youngest daughter was fascinated by the medical robots: a machine that delivers food, another one that transports and analyses blood samples and a robot hand that helps feed people who cannot manipulate utensils.
One day at this expo was not enough for my big kids. They begged to return, and we made the hour-long drive to Copenhagen again just to satisfy their curiosity. They were so impressed by the organic hospital food that they kept returning for taste tests. My son and my nephew got their bladders scanned. My son had just peed, so his showed an empty bladder. My nephew’s was 75% full, so he went to the gents’ room after his ultrasound. The boys thought it was hilarious to learn all about pee and poo. There was a poster that depicted the variations of poop, and there was a table with clay for kids to make model poops. They also got to see real bags of donor blood, plasma and platelets and measure blood oxygen saturation levels on each other. How cool is that? Kids were allowed to touch and operate medical equipment! Doctors, nurses and midwives answered their questions and engaged them. The whole family got body composition tests and the kids got to put a sticker on a Body Mass Index chart to see how they compared to other kids. For the record, my daughters are slim, and my son is downright skinny. And they eat! Healthy, balanced food!
My two older kids are now saying that they want careers in health care. I am sure that hundreds of other kids are thinking the same thing. I am so glad to live in Denmark, where medical school is free. Actually, all higher education is free, and students get a monthly government stipend. All of this is financed by taxes, and I am more than happy to pay my high taxes. Student loans are available at a very low-interest. There is a proposal in parliament to make textbooks tax-deductible. What is so exciting about living in Denmark is how close ordinary citizens can get to the decision-making process. The opportunity is there. We just have to seize it.