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Jun 1, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

More than a billion people all over the world are currently learning English, according to ThoughtCo. And with good reason: It’s been named the planet’s “most influential language” due to its vast number of speakers combined with the wide number of countries in which it’s spoken. For students aspiring to careers in science and medicine, meanwhile, English language skills are particularly important. Because of this, English language medical studies -- including in countries where English is not the native language -- are an increasingly popular option for students looking to acquire critical English language skills.

Here’s a closer look at why English matters so much, along with one innovative program in Poland now celebrating its 20th anniversary of educating international medical students in English.

The English Mandate for Medical Students

While many scientific words have their roots in Greek, French, and Russian, English has surpassed them all to become known as the “lingua franca of international science.” Says a 2012 article in the American Society for Cell Biology’s journal, Molecular Biology of the Cell, “English is now used almost exclusively as the language of science. The adoption of a de facto universal language of science has had an extraordinary effect on scientific communication: by learning a single language, scientists around the world gain access to the vast scientific literature and can communicate with other scientists anywhere in the world.”

The same applies to English and the medical field. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics tells us that “in the second half of the twentieth century English emerged as the predominant lingua franca in medicine,” while Applied Linguistics asserts that English is “by far the most used language in international medical meetings [as well as] the main medium for medical textbooks, journals, and abstracting indexes…”

Factor in the increasingly diverse population, and the ability to communicate with the widest range of patients may ultimately rely on the ability to speak and understand English. The takeaway for doctors? Whether your career goals in medicine are academic or clinical, English language skills can be viewed as a professional requirement.

A Common Obstacle

While the reasons to study medicine in English are abundant, a growing number of students are encountering a shared setback along the way: A shortage of spaces in medical schools in countries where English is the native language. As a result, many academically capable students don’t end up getting accepted -- despite their qualifications. And while some choose to apply over again the following year in the hopes of landing a coveted spot on the next go-round, those eager to immediately move forward toward their medical school goals have another option: attending an international medical school offering English language programming.

And there are other reasons to attend medical school outside of the US and the UK, as well. For starters, students planning to pursue specialties like global medicine may benefit from exposure to different patient populations and pathologies.

And then there’s the cost: Says US News & World Report, “Many foreign medical schools offer English-language instruction and lower tuition than programs in the U.S., which can make them a popular choice for budget-conscious students.”

Old Szczecin
Image Courtesy of Pomeranian Medical University of Szczecin

Enter schools like Poland’s Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin (PMU).

Case Study: Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin

Two decades ago, PMU began opening its doors to Norwegian students who couldn’t gain entrance to medical school in their native Norway. Over time, the program grew to comprise students from the whole of Scandinavia as well as numerous other countries, including Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Israel and South Africa.

Says PMU associate professor and Vice Dean of the English program Elzbieta Petriczko of PMU’s impact today, “Every fifth doctor practicing in Norway is educated in a Polish university. PMU is in the top three of these colleges, which educate the largest number of Scandinavian medical students. Additionally, we are proud that we can educate young doctors from all over the world.”

PMU’s reputation precedes it, according to PMU professor and former Dean of the English program Tomasz Urasiński.  “There is positive buzz from international graduates who returned to their home countries and propagate the idea of studying here,” he says. “They talk about the study requirements, etc. We even have families coming here, the brother and then the sister! The idea of studying at PMU spread among them.” 

Continues Urasiński, “A couple of years ago, we were on a trip to the Faroe Islands to promote the school and our program to local students. I was interviewed by the local radio about it, which shows the level of interest for our school over there. A lot of students from the Faroe Islands are interested in studying in Poland and especially in our school."

Practical Classes
Image Courtesy of Pomeranian Medical University of Szczecin

Indeed, word-of-mouth is a big factor in how PMU is opening doors to English-speaking medical degrees for many Europeans. Says John Yngve Løvland, a 30-year-old Norwegian from Europe’s North Cape, “I chose PMU because my cousin already studies at PMU and the fact that I always wanted to be a doctor. I do not know what triggered me to study there, but other universities weren't any options. Back then I was 20-years old and from a small town with around 3000 in habitants, moving to a city in Central Europe which language or culture I didn’t know.”

Another significant contributor to PMU’s success in the market is its willingness to evolve to meet changing student needs. Shares Petriczko, “The program is constantly being developed. In the future, we hope to emphasize smaller student groups during the clinical years, including the sixth year of practical experience. We also plan to increase academic support for international students as well as to modify and expand the range of elective courses based on student-led evaluations.”  Furthermore, the Erasmus student exchange program is under active development at PMU, according to Petriczko.

PMU’s welcoming and multilingual atmosphere adds to its appeal. Says pediatrician and PMU alumni Line Merete Tveit, “In my group, there were people from Norway and Sweden. A few of them had polish family and were able to speak Polish. Inside our group we talked mostly Norwegian, with teachers and instructors only English. Those who knew the Polish language were able to translate with patients in the clinic, but the instructors translated to the others.”

Earlly Spring in Szczecin
Image Courtesy of Pomeranian Medical University of Szczecin

Says Petriczko, “I sincerely encourage you to study at PMU. We offer thorough pre-clinical and clinical practice, and have a lot of experienced, excellent staff -- both professors and young, enthusiastic doctors. Szczecin is a large port city, located on the Polish-German border with direct flights to Oslo and London. It is only 120 kilometers from Berlin, and has recently begun incorporating learning experiences in German and Scandinavian hospitals.”

Echoes Urasiński of the pivotal role PMU is playing in aiding aspiring medical students in reaching their goals, “We’re here to help them complete their degrees. We want them to become good doctors because it is the best advertisement for us when they go back home!”

But why take it from us when you can hear it directly from the beneficiaries of a PMU medical degree? Enthuses Tveit, “My best experience was that I learned much more than just study medicine. I was able to learn English at a higher level, and learned to be independent. I also got friends for life.”




Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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