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I realized pretty late during the fourth year of my medical studies that when prospective American medical students were considering schools abroad, they were often talking about Caribbean medical schools. This type of study abroad has been extensively discussed. I wanted to write about studying abroad in a different context, one which is not quite as prevalent: Going to medical school abroad in Europe. Here is a table of pros and cons, and I’ll expand on each point in this article.
- Discover a new culture
- Far more cost-efficient
- European degree can facilitate working in Europe
- Can complete degree 6 years after high school
- Generally easier to get in
- There may be a language barrier if you’re not fluent in the local language
- Culture shock can be difficult to overcome
- Some citizenship issues can still exist
- Securing loans and scholarships can be complicated
- Disadvantage during the match
- Generally harder to stay in
The first and most obvious benefit of studying abroad would be a new culture. New food, new people, and living in a new place, especially in Europe is a dream for many. It pushes one out of their comfort zone and pushes them to grow as a person and learn to adapt to a new environment. Arguably, traits that would be essential for medical school.
A downside to this is the difficulty of a language barrier and culture shock that is inherent in living in a new place. Some students who decide to study in Germany or France for example will take a year off to take intensive language courses to prepare for their studies. Learning a second language isn’t easy, particularly if you are not already bilingual.
Furthermore, studying a difficult subject in a second language will prove a challenge of its own. There is also culture shock to consider. If you have never been abroad or lived abroad, it will take time to get used to. Often many students report feeling homesick. One would also have to consider that they are leaving their friends and family behind for many years and essentially starting over.
Costs and Financing
One of the biggest benefits of studying abroad, which many students consider, is the much lower costs of studying in Europe vs. in the states. On average in the United States, the tuition for a public institution is approximately 32,000. At a private institution, the price goes up to 50,000 per year. The total cost for a 4-year program is around 140-240,000 USD.
To be able to attend a four-year medical school in the states, it is necessary to complete a 4-year undergraduate degree. Which adds an average of about 29,000. In Europe, tuition ranges from 10,000 USD to 15,000 USD per year. Making the total cost of a 6-year program, from high school to medical degree costing about 60-90,000 USD. A far more affordable price for many.
However, a downside would be the complications of securing loans and scholarships. Some scholarships and loans from local European banks may only be available to European citizens. Many banks in the United States would be wary of loaning for going to medical school abroad as well. So there may be complications in funding to overcome.
Time and Connections
I mentioned in the last paragraph that medical school takes 6 years from start to finish, shaving off two years of study time. This may be beneficial for high school students who are very sure about becoming medical doctors. There are a few complications that should be mentioned that these future doctors may have to face if they choose to complete their studies in Europe.
The first is if they are determined to return to the United States to work, then they are inherently at a disadvantage. Specifically in the match, compared to their American medical school graduated peers. Many American school graduates have experience working in the American healthcare system. These students spent 4 years making connections that students who graduated abroad simply didn’t have the chance to make.
Pick a Country
Another thing to keep in mind is the complications that they could have while continuing to work in Europe. Typically, graduating from a medical school in say Belgium automatically will facilitate you and give you advantages to continue working and living there. If, however, you want to move to a different country in Europe this can be a bit complicated.
My best advice is to pick the country in which you want to live and practice medicine to complete your studies. It may be difficult to move around between European countries. This will not be a problem though if the student in question is a citizen of an EEA/EU country. They are free to move around how they please.
Getting in vs Staying in
The final things to consider are the admission and retention rates in European medical schools vs American medical schools. In the United States, after 6 years of matriculation, the graduation rate rests around 96%. So if you’ve been accepted into a medical school in the United States you’re essentially guaranteed to graduate. Even though the investment is steep, there is a sense of security knowing how likely you are to finish your program.
This isn’t the case going to medical school abroad in Europe. They’re much easier to get into, varying from 100% to 20% acceptance rates depending on country and university. Usually, one gets in by completing either an entrance exam. Though in France, everyone is accepted into the initial year, only the top few percent of students will receive a spot in the second year. Even after passing the entrance exam, many students are weeded out after the first year due to the difficulty of the courses. Usually dropping to around 60% of remaining students, although this is admittedly one of the higher numbers.
Final Thoughts on Going to Medical School Abroad
Overall I think going to medical school abroad in Europe has immense advantages. Particularly if one decides they wish to continue living and working in Europe after their studies. However, while it is possible to return to the United States, there will be unique challenges. This is something prospective students should keep in mind as well.