Sophie Morris in The Weekend Australian
No-one suffers from frostbite in Central Australia, but a stint in Alice Springs has equipped six Norwegian nurses to work at Oslo's largest hospital.
For six weeks the nurses from Ullval Hospital have been working in critical care at Alice Springs Hospital as part of an initiative by the Norwegian government to outsource training for nurses.
Like Australia, Norway is suffering from a chronic shortage of carers. But the Norwegian solution contrasts sharply with the recent advertising campaign in Australia to improve nursing's image and attract more school leavers.
Executive director of nursing in Alice Springs, Ged Williams, described the Norwegian government's strategy as risky and innovative.
"They realise they can't provide the training for the number of nurses required and so they are tendering out nursing training to universities around the world," Mr Williams said.
The Norwegian nurses are studying for two semesters at Adelaide's Flinders University, enrolled in either a postgraduate Masters of Clinical Nursing or a postgraduate Diploma of Nursing focused on critical care, with the practical component in Alice Springs.
Their fees and living expenses in Australia are paid by Ullval hospital and the Norwegian government. On return to Norway they are bonded to work for two years in critical care at Ullval.
Flinders International Nursing Program director, Maggie Cecchin, said nursing was highly regarded in Norway, where applications to study nursing exceed the number of positions available.
She said inadequate training facilities forced Norway to import nurses and outsource training.
Ms Cecchin said under another program Norwegian undergraduates would spend two of their three years training at Flinders and there are plans for 20 Flinders graduates to work for a year or more in Norway, sponsored by the Norwegian government.
Flinders School of Nursing dean, Judith Clare, said that through the partnership with Norway, which was initiated last year, friendships had been cemented, holiday exchanges planned and each side had learned more about the profession.
"In Norway they put more emphasis on interpersonal relationships with patients, whereas in Australia our strength is in high technology equipment," Professor Clare said. "We have learned a lot and so have they."
Professor Clare said staff from Flinders had visited Norway to assess the country's nursing needs and the postgraduate program took these into account.
This week Inger Jensen, 26, and Hanne Eriksen, 28, from Oslo, took the 20-hour Ghan rail trip to Adelaide from Alice Springs, having concluded their clinical placement in the remote hospital.
In Alice Springs they were exposed to conditions radically different to Oslo.
With only 150 beds, Alice Springs Hospital is about one tenth the size of Ullval, but is renowned in Australia for its intensive care unit.
Accompanying the ambulance to attend a patient in a remote community was the first time Ms Eriksen had been in a four-wheel drive.
"But I suppose what we really learnt is that regardless of the conditions, people are still people," Ms Jensen said.
"We have learned how to relate to people from different backgrounds and to respect their religion and culture."
The Centre would like to thank The Weekend Australian for permission to reproduce this article.