German language can be heard at the Faculty of Medicine in Bratislava

It is no secret that for over 20 years Norwegians have been the most numerous group of international students at the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine in Martin The Bratislava Faculty of Medicine used to host a more diverse mix of nationalities in its English programme. In recent years, however, one group of international students has begun to dominate even at this faculty. Nearly three quarters of international students of medicine in Bratislava now speak German.

03. 10. 2022 10.21 hod.
By: Naša univerzita magazine

„In recent years, the proportion of students from Germany and Austria has been steadily increasing,“ confirms Boris Mravec, Vice-dean of the Faculty of Medicine, citing the recent statistics. While in the academic year 2020/2021, of the total of 254 first-year students enrolled in the English-language programme, 169 were from Germany and Austria (66.5%), in the following academic year 2021/2022, of the 233 first-year students in the English-language programme, 171 were from Germany and Austria (73.3%).

What is causing this popularity of our capital among the prospective future doctors whose native language is German? We sought the answer the question by asking them directly. In a cafe near the Faculty's building on Sasinková street we met with Vanessa and Conrad from Germany, David from Austria and Steven from the U.S. While Steven speaks no German, he is well informed about the whole community of international students as their representative in the Academic Senate.

Good reputation, good location

„In Germany, one needs to have excellent grades in secondary school in order to be admitted to study medicine. Consequently, many secondary school students know they have to look for schools abroad if they want to study medicine,“ explains Vanessa Seibert from Frankfurt am Main. She is in her fifth year at the Faculty of Medicine, and she chose Bratislava from all the available foreign schools because of its location. „It is a European city close to Vienna and is closer to Germany than Romania, Croatia or Budapest. I had read a little about Bratislava, decided to visit for a few days, and made up my mind to study here.“

Conrad Baumeister is a first-year student, originally from Stuttgart. He was attracted to Bratislava by the renown of the Faculty. „I knew some people who studied here and reported good experience,“ he says. „It is very difficult to get admitted to study medicine in Austria,“ says David Velarde from Austria. „Not only is the entry exam hard, but the number of available places is also strictly limited. There are at least 10 applicants for each place,“ he says.

Although David was also admitted to the school of medicine in Salzburg, he chose Bratislava, because he is from Vienna. He believes the decision has many advantages. „I live in my apartment and commute to school. I haven't lost contact with my friends or family, and I have a part-time job at a hospital in Vienna, but at the same time I can study in English, in an international setting.“ 

We dissect - and that's great

They are all very satisfied with their studies. There is no language barrier between them and the teachers, whose English is very good. Vanessa notes that from time to time there are minor mistakes in written communication, like the information posted on the web or in test questions, but since the students aren’t native speakers of English either, they always find a way to understand each other.

Young medical students agree on one thing: that in some respects, the study of medicine in Bratislava is different than at Western universities, though not necessarily in a bad way. „In some respects, it’s more traditional,’ thinks David. „For example, we have chemistry and physics as separate subjects. In Vienna, there would just be a single block called Science, and some things are taught differently there. But I like it this way - I get to learn more about the background of how things work.“ They also appreciate that each subject includes practice and everyone gets to test the theory in practical situations. „What I like about the study is that it is very practice-oriented. In the first year, for example, we already had nursing as a subject, where we learned to measure blood pressure, take blood, put on bandages, and similar skills. That is not very common at other medical schools,“ says Conrad.

What international students really appreciate is that our Faculty of Medicine is still one of the few where students get to actually dissect human bodies. „I'm in my third year and we dissect every other week. It's an invaluable experience, not only in terms of new knowledge, but it also prepares us emotionally for what it means to be a doctor in real life,“ thinks Steven Calle-Schuler.

What is their opinion of Bratislava’s hospitals, where they perform practice duty? They think that some hospitals are truly terrible in terms of both equipment and environment, but luckily, the students also work in more modern facilities which are often comparable to their western counterparts. According to Vanessa, the children's clinic in Kramáre is completely on par with similar clinics in Germany. „The important thing for us is to see that all professors really try to keep up with the latest knowledge in medicine,“ says Steven.

Culture shocks?

Drivers and language International students in Bratislava are not eligible for dormitories and need to rent apartments. They mostly share housing with classmates. According to them, Bratislava is already similar to other European cities, and no major cultural shocks are to be expected. Except for the language! Foreign students of medicine are required to take two years of Slovak at the faculty, and Vanessa, Conrad, David and Steven all agree that Slovak is very hard to learn. Even when studying Slovak, however, it helps that there are so many Austrians and Germans among the students. „In our Slovak classes we were an exclusively German-speaking group and our teacher also spoke German, so it was easy for her to explain Slovak grammar to us in our native language. That made it easier for us to learn, because German and Slovak grammar have a lot in common, for example the system of inflection,“says David.

The teachers try to teach their students mostly practical language, like phrases needed for everyday communication and hospital-focused terminology. Some basic knowledge of Slovak becomes a necessity in higher years when the students need to deal with actual patients, few of whom understand English. „We would sooner encounter someone who speaks German. Children, though, are different - nearly all older children speak English quite well. Thanks to Instagram and Netflix,“ says Vanessa. For Conrad, a culture shock, apart from the language, were the drivers in Bratislava. „In Germany, every driver respects pedestrians. But here I need to make sure the car is actually going to stop, before I can cross the street.“David describes a similar experience: „In Vienna, people sometimes cross the road without even looking, expecting the drivers to see them and stop. In Bratislava, that is completely different.“

An international degree

What would they like to improve about their faculty? Perhaps the way information is available in English. Sometimes international students need to wait longer before information appears on the English website. According to David, we sometimes stick to tradition too much - that's how we've always done it, and that's how we are going to do it. „It's important to stay open to new ideas and trends,“ he thinks. Steven, as a student senator, is currently trying to improve the connection between teachers and students. „Evaluation by students should become a part of the educational culture. In order for it to be representative, it should be easy for students to do at the end of the semester for each subject, and teachers should take the feedback into account. There should also be more awareness in the society that medical training is a part of health care. We the medical students should be taken as seriously as patients. The reason is that the way students are treated carries over into how doctors are treated, and that eventually affects patient care.“

The students still don’t have a clear idea where they will work after graduating. International recognition of their diploma from the English-language programme in Bratislava is guaranteed and since they can complete a part of the mandatory practice in hospitals in their home countries, they will have experience with the German and Austrian healthcare sector as well. What they, however, consider a bonus is that in addition to quality education, the school allowed them to experience an international environment. The fact, that they studied in English, opens the door to the whole world.

Barbora Tancerová