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Lake scene and smoke sauna made Brayan Rojas Calderon fall in love with Finland: Lonely elders make future practical nurse sad

Finland is ageing and the country’s nursing sector needs specialists such as Colombian-born Brayan Rojas Calderon. He came to Finland to be a youth-sector intern but is now studying to become a practical nurse in Lappeenranta.

Brayan Rojas Calderon ja lihasnukke


You know that type of person who smiles at passers-by? Or who greets you cheerfully, although they don’t know you? Or who helps an unknown elderly woman carry her grocery bags to her door? That’s exactly how one could describe Brayan Rojas Calderon, 30. He’s a student member of JHL who lives in Lappeenranta and is studying to become a practical nurse.

Now however, Rojas Calderon’s mouth is threatening to turn into a frown. He’s attending a “caring for the elderly” class in Saimaa Vocational College Sampo, and the topic is elderly people’s nutrition and BMI (= body mass index). Teacher Anu Kiiski tells the practical nurse and care assistant students to google the formula for calculating BMI and check what their BMI is.

– My BMI is 29.1. It refers to overweight. Am I fat? Rojas Calderon asks, upset, when his weight doesn’t fall within the recommended range of 54–72 kilograms.

Brayan Rojas Calderon oppitunnilla

Brayan Rojas Calderon is studying to become a practical nurse in Saimaa Vocational College Sampo. There are also care assistant students in the same group.

However, it is not quite that simple to interpret body mass index according to Kiiski.

– If you work out at a gym and you’ve got muscle mass, it distorts the number because muscle weighs more than fat.

Rojas Calderon breathes a sigh of relief. He lifts weights nearly every day and plays volleyball and floorball. That means he’s got muscles.

Theory and practical learning

The contact teaching continues. The group has soon gone over diabetes and low blood sugar. After that, it’s time for common ailments related to ageing. These include frailty syndrome and sarcopenia (= loss of muscle mass).

Finally, Kiiski talks about enhanced diet, oral care among the elderly and cleaning dental prostheses. Practical nurses must even have knowledge about those things if they wish to work in a nursing home.

At the moment, Vocational College Sampo has over 500 practical nurse and care assistant students, about 400 of them in Lappeenranta and 120 in Imatra. Some of them are youth-level students, some are more mature adult students and occupation switchers.

Brayan Rojas Calderon polkupyäräilee koulumatkat

Rojas Calderon mostly rides a bike to and from school.

In Vocational College Sampo, there are 10–20 nursing-sector students in each group. The groups usually have two or three immigrant-origin students.

– They’re exempted from studying Swedish. Otherwise, the degree requirements are the same, Kiiski explains.

In 2018, a vocational education and training reform was carried out. The reform increased on-the-job learning and decreased the amount of contact teaching. Regardless, future practical nurses must be provided with a theoretical foundation by their school. For instance in Vocational College Sampo, the amount of contact teaching in health and social services studies is slightly over 50 per cent.

Roots in Colombia and Spain

Brayan Rojas Calderon was born in South America, in Colombia. When he was seven, he moved to Spain with his family.

After comprehensive school, Rojas Calderon worked in a restaurant and managed at the same time a small youth club in Toledo, Central Spain, with other volunteers.

– Many young people flocked to the club, we earned more money and found a bigger house in which to provide more activities, he explains.

Brayan Rojas Calderon ja opiskelukaverit

Elina Muurman (pictured on the left) and Laura Tukia are Brayan’s friends in Vocational College Sampo. They are studying to become basic-level paramedics.

Rojas Calderon ended up in Finland by accident through Erasmus youth exchange.

I checked the map to see where Finland is located.

– Back then, I didn’t even know where Finland is located. I checked the location on a map.

First, a group of young Finnish people spent a month learning about Spanish youth activities. Rojas Calderon and another youth worker then came to South Karelia for a return visit.

– Three days in Simpele. Lake shore, smoke sauna, I fall in love Suomi, he paints a pleasant picture.

Rojas Calderon then got acquainted with Lappeenranta. It rained all day, but the old fortress and harbour were beautiful, and Lappeenranta is just the right sized city, not too large or small.

One consequence led to another, and in 2018 he started as an Erasmus+ project intern in Lappeenranta’s youth services. Erasmus+ is a European Union project.

Elderly people crave company

After the project ended, Rojas Calderon would have wanted to become a youth instructor through apprenticeship training, but he couldn’t find a suitable job at the time. Instead, he got a tip from the local TE Office to start studying for a basic degree within the health and social services sector.

Before starting his studies, Rojas Calderon spent a while as an intern in an Attendo nursing home in Lappeenranta. There he realised that he gets along with elderly people.

– Many elderly people are lonely and crave company. It makes me sad, and I want to bring joy. I smiled and had fun with the residents.

The entrance exam and interviews went well, and in autumn 2021 Rojas Calderon started his practical nurse studies in Vocational College Sampo.

–Last spring, I completed the “drug dosage calculation” study module. I especially like anatomy and physiology, he says as he drags a “muscle man” into the nursing classroom.

potilasnuken kääntäminen kyljelleen

Teacher Anu Kiiski advises Brayan Rojas Calderon how to turn over a patient on their side.

In the classroom, there are three life-size care dolls lying on beds. They help students learn about basic patient care and ergonomic working positions.

– Remember to support the hip, Kiiski advises Rojas Calderon as he turns over the doll from one side to the other with the help of a lifting linen.

Leaving for South America next year

Rojas Calderon praises not only Lappeenranta but also studying in Finland. Studying is more informal here, and it includes group work and other activities that support learning. In addition, students have a more friendly relation to teachers.

– But the Finnish language, especially writing it, takes a lot of extra work. It took me a long time to learn to express myself in English. It’s even more difficult in Finnish, but I’m trying my best.

lähihoitajaopiskelijat Lehmus-kodissa

Brayan Rojas Calderon and Veera Kiviluoma had residents of Lehmuskoti sing songs in early autumn 2022.

Rojas Calderon will graduate as a practical nurse in about a year. After he graduates, he’s going to realise his dream of travelling to his birthplace Colombia to visit his grandparents.

– I’ve only met them a couple of times since I moved to Europe. The last time was in 2004.

After that, he’ll return to Finland and Lappeenranta.

– This is my home. Maybe I’ll continue my studies further and become a social pedagogue.

Practical nurses have plenty of work

Practical nurse is a basic degree within the health and social services sector. Its extent is 180 study points. In addition to theory, the studies include on-the-job learning and internships.

Every year, approximately 8,000–9,000 people graduate as practical nurses. In addition, there are over a thousand practical nurse students in apprenticeship training.

In the coming years, the plan is to increase the number of study places and emphasise elderly care and rehabilitation in the studies.

At the beginning of 2023, nearly 40,000 practical nurses started to work for wellbeing services counties. They are covered by the health and social services sector’s collective agreement negotiated by JHL. They work in, say, hospitals, nursing homes and home help, mental health services and substance abuse centres, and disability services.

In addition, practical nurses work in private health and social services companies and in health and social services provided by organisations (elderly care, mental health services, alcohol and drug rehabilitation). They are covered by the private health or social services sector’s collective agreement.

A large number of practical nurses also work within early childhood education and care.