Aug 9, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

What happens if you’re committed to a career in medicine, have the grades, but still can’t gain entrance to medical school in your native country? That’s exactly what Zahara Assad experienced when applying to study medicine in London, according to a recent BBC article. Turned away, she says, because she was a mother, Zahara found another way to pursue her goal of becoming a doctor: She enrolled in medical school in Bulgaria.

Growing Numbers Look to Eastern Europe

Assad is far from alone. According to the BBC, more and more British students are seeking out medical studies in Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary due to the combination of less competitive admissions, lower tuition, and a cheaper cost of living. Countries like Azerbaijan and Russia also offer affordable and attractive options for British students looking eastward.

This isn’t to say getting into medical school in Eastern Europe is easy, just easier. Aris Grigoriou, head of student recruitment at Study Medicine Europe, told BBC, “"All the universities have to meet EU standards. Many of the students have A and B grades. Some universities are more flexible and accept lower grades, like Cs, but those students have to do extra entrance exams in biology and chemistry.”

Rising to the Challenges

These benefits aren’t without this challenges, however. For Assad, studying in Bulgaria meant leaving her four kids and husband behind while she completes her degree.

And then there’s the language issue: While some medical schools do offer coursework in English, the ability to converse with patients in their native language while treating them is important. Learning the language is a worthwhile endeavor, says one UK student currently enrolled in medical school in Eastern Europe. “We know how lucky we are to have this chance to become doctors. Ultimately we’ll be coming home to work in the NHS.”

Which begs the question: Are Eastern European-trained MDs be able to find work in the UK? Current laws don’t require them to sit for clinical exams in the UK to ensure competence. However, this may change with Brexit. Said Chief executive of the General Medical Council Charlie Massey, “For some years now we have argued that we should have the right to test the competence of European doctors with assessments of their knowledge and clinical skills, just as we do for doctors with international medical qualifications…Brexit provides an opportunity to improve the checks we can carry out to ensure all doctors practicing in the UK meet the same standards."

 

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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