We have all received medical attention at certain points of our lives, and I can say that holds true especially for my family and myself. Medical professionals, hospital admissions and treatment have been at the forefront of our world at times. This is my motivation for studying medicine, the fact that I can give back and be of service to the wider community, in the same way we have been helped, is what drives me. The journey to studying Medicine is not always as straight forward as intended and there are many obstacles that you must overcome first.
The journey may differ but the destination remains the same ~ Melanin Medics
For me, I knew that I definitely wanted to study medicine and did not want to do a degree before this, if possible. I had thoroughly prepared and undertaken work experience in various healthcare sectors. My GCSE grades met the requirements to apply for Medicine in the UK but I wasn’t too sure about my A-Level grades meeting the requirements, so I started researching other options in case I wasn’t able to get into any UK Medical Schools. I found out that I would be able to study Medicine in Europe and still be able to practice in the European Economic Area which currently includes the UK however since Brexit it is unknown whether we will remain in the EEA so this is something consider. It is actually much cheaper to study at certain European Universities, than in the UK however studying abroad means that I privately fund my degree as well as the cost of living as I am not entitled to Student Finance. As it turned out, I didn’t get any offers for UK medical schools, so I focused all my effort on trying to get accepted into my current university.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
The application process was pretty smooth and straightforward, as I had a lot of help from the agency that I used and sent different documents such as my GSCE grades, medical records etc but a personal statement was not required. Even though I didn’t receive UK offers, going through the process of applying through UCAS was very beneficial in the long run because I had to really evaluate my strengths and weaknesses which is something I’ll potentially be doing for the rest of my life. As mentioned previously, I applied through an agency independent from UCAS which dealt with the translation and legalisation of my documents as well as logistics which in total cost me over £200. Applications can be submitted free of charge but you have to pay for translation and legalisation.
I applied blindly, meaning I had never visited the University until after I was accepted however I would recommend that if you have the means to go and visit the prospective University before you apply, then do it. I applied at the start of year 13 (September/ October 2015) and received an offer in April 2016 however my place was not confirmed until after I received my A-Level results (August 2016) and sent the necessary documents over the following year. The Entry Requirements include B/C in A-Level Biology and Chemistry and you also have to do Entry Tests which determine whether you’re accepted or not. The Entry Tests involve a Chemistry Test and a Biology Test in which you have to achieve above 50% and the tests last for approximately an hour.
ADAPTING TO A NEW COUNTRY
I started Medical School in Pleven, Bulgaria in February 2017 as their academic year begins in February. I know what you’re all wondering, what was it like being in a Eastern European country all by myself at the age of 18? To be honest, it was not as bad as I thought it would be and I think that was due to being as prepared as I could be having visited the country after I had applied twice. I lived in a 2 bed apartment (private accommodation) which is what most students tend to do as the cost of living is significantly lower than that of the UK. I shared the apartment with another Afro-Caribbean international student from the UK and quickly got to know the other international students who I had previously communicated with through a Facebook Group Chat.
In terms of Bulgaria itself, I have to be honest in admitting that I have experienced racism in different forms such as verbal abuse and unwarranted attention but I have come to realise that it is more due to ignorance even though there is no excuse. It was a huge culture shock when I first came and I must admit their ways of life took a lot of getting used to. Having a large cohort of other students made it more bearable as we were all going through the same things at the same time so we were able to encourage and support one another. Adapting to a new county has been quite the experience, as Bulgaria is quite different to the UK even though it is in Europe. For example, Bulgarians shake their head when they mean “yes”. There is also the language which I enjoy learning and am still getting to grips with. Bulgarian uses a completely different alphabet system (Cyrillic), which definitely takes some time to get used to!
MY UNIVERSITY & COURSE
Currently, I am at the end of my first year at Medical University Pleven in Bulgaria, and I am currently studying for my upcoming exams that will be in January. The university has two faculties, one being the Faculty of Medicine and the other the Faculty of Public Health. We have over 200 international students who started in February 2017. The English language course is a six-year course, which is comprised of two years of pre-clinical study, three years of clinical study and one-year state clinical practice (internship). There are vast range of different subjects that are studied for the duration of the course from subjects like Cytology and Medical Physics in the first year to Radiology, Disaster Medicine and Pathoanatomy in fourth year. Additionally, for the first three years, students on this course attend compulsory Bulgarian classes. This is in place so that students are able to communicate with patients during the clinical years of study. Quite often you don’t understand what your lecturers or staff are saying as English may be their second language so you may need to clarify a lot so don’t be scared to ask questions. The typical day starts at 8:00am and ends at 4pm, comprising of compulsory Laboratory Practicals, Lectures and Cadaver Dissection (anatomy). The way exams are structured is quite different to the UK too. There is a synopsis for each subject, which outlines the topics that need to be covered. During the exam students pick a topic from the synopsis randomly and write an essay on that topic. There may also be an MCQ paper. There is usually an oral part of the exam too, where the lecturer can ask you questions about different topic points not just your essay topic. They also grade through numbers; 6 = excellent, 3 = pass & 2=fail.
TIPS AND ADVICE TO OTHER MEDICAL STUDENTS?
That being said, life is what you make it and I feel like we should make the most out of our situations. So if you are looking to study abroad these are a few tips I would give you:
Do your research I started looking into the prospects of studying in Europe about a year and a half before finally being accepted into Medical University Pleven. Try to look into as many options as you possibly can, make phone calls, write emails, attend events, try to gather as much knowledge as you can surrounding this area so that you can make informed decisions for example, inquire about how student accommodation works in the area, research whether there are loans available for the fees, look into how the course is structured etc. Additionally find out if there are any entrance tests that you need to prepare for and try and find past papers for them so you can practice.
Ask for as much help as you can Whether it be from teachers, older students or even residents of the area you’re in, ask as many questions as you can, in order to make sure you have as much information as possible. Find out where the best place is to buy familiar food, where to set up a bank account and if you need to make a new phone contract etc.
Try and learn to speak the language
Nelson Mandela once said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”
I find that when I speak Bulgarian to locals, they tend to be more open and willing to help, so I would encourage you to try and learn the language as much as you can and practice speaking with locals. At the end of the day, you are in THEIR country and that’s the language they speak in that area.
Make friends with different people It’s easy to lean towards making friends with people that are from the same background as you, especially when you’re in a new place far from home. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. However I would encourage you to try and make friends with people who are of different cultures as you’re most likely going to be surrounded by people from all over the world. Not only does it broaden your perspective of the world as a whole, it can also open new opportunities for you in the future.
Enjoy it By you studying abroad, you have a unique opportunity to be in completely new and foreign environment for quite an extended period of time. Your whole life story is going to be quite different to that of your friends, make the most of it! Experience and enjoy as much of the culture as you can and be open to trying new things!
I intend to come and practise in the UK once I graduate and I’ve always been interested in Psychiatry, but I’m also interested in Neurology and Obstetrics and Gynecology, which I know sounds a little all over the place. But I’m sure as I study these modules in the coming years, my interests will narrow down to what I want to specialise in.
Written by Jemima Soladoye
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