Expand your horizons with an education from the east

Leon Hood explores UK students’ options for pursuing medicine and dentistry in eastern Europe

Central and eastern Europe have been gradually climbing the ranks of popular tourist destinations for a few years now. Drawn by the spectacular countryside, ancient cities, unique cultures and distinctive beers and spirits, it’s not just backpackers and holidaymakers who are heading east: many UK students are tempted there as well.

Candidates for medicine and dentistry have lots of choice when it comes to training, but places in the UK are hotly contested and entry standards are extremely high, so missing out on a single A-level grade can mean you fail to get into your first choice of school. Even then, students with a clutch of high grades might still be unsuccessful. But there are other possibilities for those willing to travel further and venture just a little bit more into the unknown.

Several of the eastern European institutions offer courses in medicine and dentistry, including Charles University in Prague, Comenius University in Slovakia, the Medical University of Gdansk in Poland and Hungary’s University of Debrecen. Each has unique features, but there are a few similarities across the various countries that may help students when researching the application process, not least of which is that the cost of living can be as

little as a third of what it is in the UK. All medical courses last six years, or five for dentistry. Entry requirements tend to be lower than in British schools. Current tuition fees are broadly similar to those at home: Charles University currently sets its annual course fees for medicine at €13,000 and dentistry at €14,500; at Debrecen they’re $13,500 (£9,500); Comenius University charges €9,000 for medicine and €10,000 for dentistry; and those studying medicine in Gdansk pay PLN44,000 (£9,250) for the first year and PLN35,000 (£7,500) for the remaining years.

Prospective students will find that the application process is quite similar for each university. All of them accept direct applications, usually administered by M&D Europe. Students will be required to sit an entrance exam that examines their scientific knowledge and possibly attend an interview, after which they may receive an offer. Alternatively students can take the M&D Pre-Med course in the UK, which will give them a first-year, degree-level grounding in medical science, as well as preferential treatment when applying to partner universities in eastern Europe (and further afield). The qualification will also let them enter the second year of degree courses in both medicine and dentistry. Naturally, once students arrive, the experience will be very different depending on the country they elect to study in. Language is one obvious variable: courses are taught entirely in English at Prague’s Charles University, but students will study Czech so they can communicate with patients during the clinical phase of their studies. For medical and dentistry students alike, the practical elements of the course begin in the third year of study, with the 200 or so foreign students studying at the University Hospital. Away from the lecture hall, the faculty town of Hradec Králové is surrounded by mountain ranges which offer numerous opportunities for winter sports.

Further north, Poland’s Medical University of Gdansk has a cohort of around 2,000, a quarter of whom are made up of overseas students. Taught in English, the six-year medical course (dentistry is not offered) instructs students at the Academic Clinical Centre, the largest hospital in northern Poland. All students are welcome to use the aptly named campus club, Medyk, for extra-curricular activities (including traditional initiation ceremonies); there’s even an annual hospital bed race through the streets of Gdansk.

Perched on the banks of the Danube, Bratislava is the lively, cosmopolitan home to Comenius University, which offers medicine and dentistry courses taught in English. Academic years are divided into winter (September to February) and summer (February to August) semesters, with the first three years of both disciplines focusing on theoretical knowledge, laboratory work and practical classes. The final years then look at clinical practice. Only three hours by plane from London and within striking distance of Vienna, Bratislava is a vibrant city with a growing expatriate community. It more than makes up for its extreme winters with its welcoming bars and the warmth and hospitality of its residents.

Students heading further south to the University of Debrecen, based in the Great Forest of Hungary, will have the opportunity to study and work in one of the country’s largest and best-equipped hospitals. All phases of the medical and dentistry courses are taught in English, but by the the third year students will need to be proficient in Hungarian to communicate with the staff and patients they work with.

Debrecen’s educational history has its roots in the 16th century, but it has plenty to offer students seeking modern forms of entertainment, including carnivals and jazz festivals. For those who like to explore, the city of Budapest is only a few hours away by road.

Wherever students choose to go, they can be confident that the skills they gain abroad will equip them just as well for their future careers as those gained at a British institution. The qualifications obtained are all recognised by the General Medical Council (GMC) or General Dental Council (GDC) in the UK, although in some cases students may require a review or need to pass the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test in order to practise. In all cases, it’s wise to confirm everything with the GMC or the GDC, before embarking on a course, so that you know exactly what to expect at the end of your studies.

Whether students head to Hungary, Slovakia, Poland or the Czech Republic to gain their qualifications, they’ll be assured of a high standard of teaching. And, perhaps just as importantly, the independence and language skills they pick up, as well as the cultural experiences they enjoy, will stand them in good stead for the opportunities and challenges that they’ll face as they embark on their professional careers.

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