LEGOs, Midwives, and Vikings??

What could these three possibly have in common?

Well, that they’re integral to my understanding of the Danish healthcare system. Who knew?!

I’m currently taking Health Delivery and Prioritization, with professors Tine Poulsen and Maria Zabell. They’ve structured the course in a manner that promotes open-ended discussion and hands-on learning.

In fact, hands-on engagement clearly underpins all the serious academic work that we’ve done.

If we’re reading philosophical texts on welfare state models, we’re working in groups to identify the pros and cons of say, a liberal model versus a social democratic model. Don’t get me started.

When we’re learning about the difference between inequity and inequality, we’re doing the most Danish of hands-on learning… we’re building mechanistic models out of LEGOs! The model I worked on compared differential disease consequences for those of high socioeconomic status versus those of low socioeconomic status.

Upon reflection, this is a little creepy. Oh well! It helped me to understand differential disease outcomes by socioeconomic status, and the “vicious circle” that characterizes these dynamics.

And then… something weird happened.

A guest lecturer, Costa Rican midwife and perinatal educator Jennifer Kozlow came to speak with us about birthing customs around the globe. Or so we thought.

Instead, we all received an introductory course on being, well, pregnant.

For some context, our class is composed of ten female students, all between the ages of 18 and 22. Of course, we’re all academically minded undergraduates. While I know I want to have children, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. Babies are for my thirties.

Yet, I found our discussion of birth to be fascinating. Jennifer asked questions that bordered on philosophical, a nice detour from the quantitative, “evidence-based” public health protocol.

Mama swan and baby swans, photographed on my daily run.

It reminded me that, despite all hard facts and numbers, peoples’ values still play an important role in how they encounter the healthcare system. Policy cannot leave country-specific standards behind.

This leads me to another large part of the course. We spend a good deal of time comparing the American and Danish healthcare systems. And while it’s easy to identify reasons why the Danish system is much better than the U.S.’s, it’s harder to ascertain how it came to be better. In other words, how did/do each country’s value systems influence the construction of their respective healthcare systems? In fact, this is the topic that I’ll be covering in my final project for the class.

As an American, I’m used to a relatively low level of social trust, especially in today’s political climate. The most American of rallying cries stands out in my mind: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Such a statement implies that each person has freedom to do what s/he/they want, how they want.

Contrast this with a specific line from the Danish Constitution with my bolding: “…No person shall by reason of his creed or descent be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civic and political rights, nor shall he escape compliance with any common civic duty.” Implicit in this statement is freedom conditioned upon a social contract. Every Dane enjoys freedom provided that they hold up their end of the bargain, as I understand it. 

Even though I’ve only been in Denmark for a few weeks now, I can already see that social trust and solidarity is much higher here. People leave strollers outside of shops, politely wait their turn, and pay exceptionally high taxes to ensure delivery of benefits not only to themselves, but also to others less fortunate.

So how in the heck did Danes, notorious in the Middle Ages as viking raiders, come to exemplify the beauty of a socially tolerant and supportive welfare state? I look forward to addressing these questions and more in my final paper.

On a final note, especially for prospective DIS students, a resounding theme I’ve heard from other DIS students is, no matter the subject you’re taking, you always manage to learn about Denmark and Danish culture. I did not expect this, and it’s made my experience here come to life.

I’ll see y’all next time! For now, here’s a picture of the wonderful pastries at the shop across the street from class. Just another perk of living in Copenhagen!


3 thoughts

  1. Evelyn I’m so glad you are doing a Blog. I sent you a couple of texts and got no reply so I was a bit worried. I’m glad you are having an interesting and educational experience. I look forward to more of your blogs. Love, Gran Nancy

  2. Interesting project plus pastries? Could it get any better? Looking forward to more, especially about pastries. Are they called Danish?

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