Salford Students Savor ‘White Nights’ Trip to Russia, Finland

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By Nina Darke
Salford University P&O students pose at the Prosthetic Museum in St. Petersburg. At extreme right is Dr. Valentina Volkova, who arranged clinical visits in the historic city for the students.
Salford University P&O students pose at the Prosthetic Museum in St. Petersburg. At extreme right is Dr. Valentina Volkova, who arranged clinical visits in the historic city for the students.

For several years, the students in the prosthetics and orthotics course at Salford University have arranged a field trip at the end of their third year of studying. This year was no exception, and the chosen destinations were Helsinki, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Upon arrival in Helsinki, we settled into our hostel which was situated next to the Olympic Stadium--where Bruce Springsteen was performing for our first two nights! We then met up with Mikko, Eva, and Keisa, who spent a semester at Salford University as students in the previous academic year, and we all headed to a restaurant for some dinner. We tried a selection of delicious Finnish dishes, followed by some of the local beer in an area of Helsinki traditionally frequented by students.

The following day was spent sightseeing after some of the group had had a swim and sauna at the stadium pool. That day, we visited the local market where an amazing array of souvenirs and local food was offered. We then took a boat to the zoo, which is situated on one of the many islands around Helsinki's beautiful coastline.

Clinical Visits in Helsinki

The next day, we were met by Markku Ripatti, a lecturer and practitioner in prosthetics and orthotics, who organized our clinical visits in Helsinki. First, we went to Respecta, a large rehabilitation facility where patients can receive treatment and be advised on a range of rehabilitation aids. Veli-Matti Lempinen gave us a presentation on the history of the facility and a thorough tour of the workshops and clinical areas. Finnish students in the prosthetics and orthotics course undergo some of their training at this center, and in the past, it has been a placement center for a student from Salford University. After leaving this center, we traveled to Soleus, a small private orthotics workshop, where we observed staff producing various orthoses and footwear.

On our final day in Helsinki, we traveled to the Helsinki Polytechnic [Institute] and visited its prosthetic and orthotic training school. This school has been training prosthetists and orthotists in Finland for several years, as well as students from other healthcare professions. We were taken on a tour around the Polytechnic and were all impressed by how clean and well equipped the workshops and clinic areas are.

Learning, Fun in St. Petersburg

That afternoon, we traveled to St. Petersburg on the Sibilius, which is a beautiful old-style Russian train. We were all looking forward to seeing St. Petersburg, and this was made all the more exciting as our trip was timed to coincide with the end of the 300th Anniversary Celebrations of the city and the Festival of the White Nights. ("White Nights" is the period around the summer solstice when the sun does not dip sufficiently below the horizon for the sky to get dark).

Dr. Volkova, a major collaborating researcher with the University of Salford, who is based at the St. Petersburg Scientific and Practical Center of Medical and Social Expertise, Prosthetics, and Rehabilitation of the Disabled, arranged our clinical visits in St. Petersburg.

DiaSled Device

On our first day, we visited that institute where we were shown the DiaSled in-shoe pressure-measuring device. This is a commercially available and novel system of measuring in-shoe plantar pressures developed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Smirnova. The DiaSled system senses the pressure distribution over the plantar surface of the foot by using an array of small pressure transducers. Dr. Smirnova explained how this device can be used to assess the performance of in-shoe orthoses and can also be used as an aid to optimize orthotic prescription.

Prosthetic History

The Salford students take time to pose for their photo as they sightsee in Finland. Second from left is Glyn Heath, PhD, who helped arrange and guide the trip.
The Salford students take time to pose for their photo as they sightsee in Finland. Second from left is Glyn Heath, PhD, who helped arrange and guide the trip.

We also visited the Prosthetics Museum within the Institute, which holds exhibits from as early as the seventeenth century. It gave an excellent introduction to the history of prostheses, including materials and styles of the past, but it was also fascinating to see how certain elements of these designs are still incorporated into present-day prostheses. It was interesting to know that the museum had been visited by Queen Elizabeth II, a fact that the guide was only too pleased to reveal to us.

Clinical Visits

We were then taken to the children's ward of the hospital where we saw children at various stages of their prosthetic rehabilitation, and we also were given a presentation on the various types of orthopedic surgery performed at the department. We were then met once again by Dr. Volkova, who explained a novel computerized method of measuring, designing, and producing functional and aesthetic clothing for people with impaired upper-limb function, as well as for people with abnormal posture.

St. Petersburg Life and Sights

That evening was spent at a traditional bar, which Glyn regularly visits while in St. Petersburg. We met up with one of his several friends there, who showed us the correct way to eat dried fish, a traditional accompaniment to beer in Russia. However, not many of us chose to try it ourselves! That night also saw us sampling true St. Petersburg vodka for the first time. It was so good that many of us bought bottles to take home.

The following day was spent sightseeing in St. Petersburg, including the Palace and State Hermitage, which fully lives up to its reputation as one of the world's greatest art and treasure museums. There are more than three million exhibits in the Hermitage's collection, and even though only a fraction of these are ever on display at one time, this was still far too much for us to see in just a couple of hours! However, it was long enough for us all to be bowled over by the truly magnificent and extravagant interior of the Palace buildings.

Our final morning in St. Petersburg was spent on a bus tour around the city, and after we had all stocked up on matryoshki (Russian dolls), we caught the train back to Helsinki, ready for our flight home.

Thanks for a Fascinating Trip

This really did prove to be a most varied and fascinating trip, and all the students would like to thank everyone we met in Helsinki and St. Petersburg for making us all so welcome and for taking the time to show us around. We would also like to say a special "thank you" to Glyn Heath, since the trip not only would not have been possible without him, it would not have been nearly as much fun! Dr. Heath's links with centers in both cities made the trip possible, as did sponsorship received from Bauerfeind, Bolton Bros., British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association (BLESMA), North Sea Plastics, Otto Bock HealthCare, and Rehabilitation Services. Many thanks to all these companies and organizations. Their contributions were much appreciated and used wisely!

Nina Darke is a fourth-year student in the Directorate of Prosthetics & Orthotics, University of Salford, United Kingdom.