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Mission: Being a Doctor

Within our themed series of interviews “Doctor – it is a mission” we offer an interview with Eva Tuuppa (pictured), RSU medical student from Finland who sees herself joining a humanitarian organisation in the future. Eva has organised practical lectures and classes of Finnish doctors in Rīga and following completion of several internships in Finnish hospitals, this summer she will experience first-hand the role of assistant practitioner.

Eva is a 27 year old 4th year medical student at Rīga Stradiņš University, "I have graduated from the nursing programme at Turku University of Applied Sciences. I am a positive and outgoing personality – I love playing sports, reading books and travelling, when possible. My future speciality choice could be gynaecology and obstetrics or anaesthesiology – it remains to be seen. One day I also wish to work for Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross or some other humanitarian organisation in military conflict or disaster zones," says Eva.


What is the reason for choosing RSU?

Thousands of young people in Finland dream to study medicine; however, the number of available study places is rather limited and based on statistics, on average it takes about three years to pass the entrance exam to get accepted to a medical school in Finland. Because of my experience in England where I worked as an au-pair, I had considerably improved my language proficiency and the option of studying abroad seemed intriguing. In the result of a web search and some enquiries, I learned that many Finns study medicine in St. Petersburg, Tartu, Rīga and some other Polish and Hungarian cities. I applied to some of them and surprisingly got accepted by all, thus I chose Rīga (RSU) due to it being a dynamic and vital city in the heart of the Baltics with good flight connections to my home town Turku (it takes about 50 minutes to fly from Rīga airport to Turku) and other destinations elsewhere in Europe. Another aspect for choosing RSU was the personal experience shared by Finnish students who highlighted such aspects as wide international representation by students coming from Scandinavia and all the way down to Sri Lanka, the English language proficiency of teaching staff, the involvement of the Dean’s office and the International Department asking for feedback on a regular basis to learn about students’ wishes and preferences. I was told at once that the studies will be hard, but it was no longer an issue to me, since I have never thought of medical studies as an easy way to go. I obtained the required information for application on the RSU webpage, I applied, got accepted, and there has been not a single occasion at which I would have regretted the choice I have made.

Why do you want to become a doctor?

The medical profession is the only profession I have ever truly admired – I was always in absolute awe of the knowledge and unyielding expertise medical doctors represent, with thousands of hours of persistent studying, repeating, watching, learning and working. For a long time the idea of becoming a medical practitioner was just a secret dream, I was too afraid to speak it out loud in fear of failure and humiliation. I kept on studying to become a nurse – I thought I would be satisfied with a job quite closely related to medicine and working at a hospital. It was only after I started working as an acute care nurse at the Emergency Department of Turku University Hospital during the last year of my nursing studies that I realised that I could potentially achieve so much more – instead of assisting a doctor in providing treatment and saving lives I could do it myself. Not only did I want to learn by heart which particular drug should be prescribed to a patient in case of a specific disease, instead, I wanted to have a more profound understanding of patients, illnesses and underlying processes. At this point I realised that being a nurse will never be enough and I began to plan my ambitious journey of becoming a medical doctor and the road took me all the way to Rīga.

What is RiSLO and how many RSU students belong to RiSLO?

The Finnish Medical Students’ Association in Rīga (RiSLO) is a student-run, non-profit organisation for Finnish medical, dentistry and veterinary students. The association was founded in 2012 and as for today it has over 180 members. We provide information and support to our members from the first day of studies up till graduation, organise a variety of different events and get-togethers from semester kick-off parties to professional workshops and seminars.

What is your position at RiSLO?

I am the Editor-in-Chief and my main duties are associated with the publication of the biannual magazine Lapsus Calami. I was first elected in 2014/2015, then in 2016 and now 2017 – this December I will have been on the RiSLO board for 3.5 years and I can proudly announce that my work there will be gradually accomplished and it is time to step aside and let other people bring in new ideas and enthusiasm. I have had the pleasure to see the organisation grow and reach over 100 members during these three years and I have been successful in organising numerous events and activities, among them, the visit to our fellow Finnish medical students in Tartu, the RiSLO half-marathon training and acting as the main event planner for the Academic Ball which was held at Rīga Society House this April.

You also mentioned that Finnish students complete internships in Finland. Please tell us a bit about those internships and why they are important to Finnish students.

Finnish medical schools strive to provide their students with real-life conditions as soon as possible allowing them to work as full-fledged medical practitioners upon graduation. Luckily I have the same chance, despite the fact that I am studying abroad. Thus, after three years of medical training you can contact chief physicians of hospitals and apply for a one-month internship commonly in internal disease or surgery department, as we have at least partly accomplished these courses.

Last July I spent one month at the internal diseases department of Satakunta Central Hospital in Pori -one week in cardiology, one in gastroenterology, one in haematology and one in the emergency care unit, going on morning rounds with doctors, examining patients, writing referrals for X-ray, CT and other investigations, writing decursus and epicrisis. In August I spent one month in Forssa Hospital in surgery and orthopaedics, assisting in countless knee and hip surgeries, attending morning rounds, and providing assistance in out-patient clinics. I have not yet had to assume responsibility for my own patients - my main task was to observe, do and learn – just to get to know how things are done and to get prepared for the next summer. I know that similar internships are offered in Germany and some other countries whereby I think the main difference is that in Finland we get paid for it.

In the upcoming summer, having completed 4 study years I will be able to work as an assistant practitioner. After passing my exams in June I will frantically wait for the transcript of records to be ready so that I could send it to Valvira (the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health in Finland) for them to grant me limited rights of a practitioner – this means I will get my unique identification code that is assigned to every medical practitioner in Finland, a stamp and limited drug prescription rights, allowing me to make prescriptions to patients treated by me, but not for other people outside the care relationship – this is allowed only after graduation. Last summer during my internship at the cardiology department in Pori the chief physician was very pleased with my work and offered me a job also this summer, so from July till the end of August I will be working as an “assistant practitioner” at the cardiology department of Satakunta Central Hospital. I will have full responsibility for my patients, and I will be the one prescribing the necessary treatment, laboratory examinations, other check-ups and also for discharging the patient from hospital. This is a huge responsibility, but, luckily, a senior doctor’s assistance as we call it in Finland is really helpful – I am not left alone with my decisions and when the need arises I can always consult a senior doctor. The salary will be -5 % of a graduate doctor’s salary, which I am very content with, because I have to cover the tuition fee for my studies in Rīga. The perception of this responsibility has considerably affected my study motivation – I have always been a good student, but now, when this baptism by fire is ahead, I must be able to think and act as a medical doctor and thus I have been studying twice as hard as before.

After the fifth study year we can work as general practitioners or family doctors in health care centres or independently at ER. Many Finns travel to Finland for weekends throughout the study year to work on-call in ER during Saturdays and Sundays and fly back to Rīga on Sunday evening or early Monday morning – this is an excellent contribution for the up-coming graduation.

All in all, I find the opportunity of allowing students to assume responsibility in real work conditions already during the study process a valuable experience as it prepares us for what is coming – the knowledge and practical skills needed after graduation. Considering all this, RSU is a great place to study to become a doctor – it gives you up-to-date theoretical knowledge that can be subsequently applied in practice to treat patients.