A roadmap for medical education in Europe
The leading healthcare systems in various European countries is founded on having a highly developed medical education. The goals of the Medicine and Dentistry study programmes at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) are ambitious – to not only be on the same level of growth, but to also try to exceed the standard of medical education excellence set by Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Austria, Italy and other countries. It is therefore necessary to coordinate the content, form and results of the study programmes and to compare them with those of leading medical universities in the European Union and the European Economic Area.
RSU Vice-Rector for Health Studies, Prof. Guntis Bahs, talks about the synchronisation and development progress of medical education programmes at RSU.
From theory to practice
So far most emphasis has been placed on medical students’ theoretical training. Our physicians are very knowledgeable and can definitely compete and often surpass graduates from other international universities – what they sometimes lack, however, is practice. Our students are provided with a great theoretical base which cannot always be fully implemented in practice or used later in life. In order to eliminate such possible failings we have undertaken a huge task – we want to develop the sixth year of studies to not merely be a year of repetition or consolidation of existing knowledge, but as a year of practice where students spend most of their time in hospitals, outpatient medical institutions, emergency medical services or at a general practitioner’s practice. This is a big change from the previous approach when students were just provided with the maximum amount of theory. The well-known saying that repetition is the mother of learning is becoming old, today we say – practice is the mother of competence! This is the key that will allow RSU graduates to open the doors to a career at any European hospital.
Work has already successfully begun both internationally and in Latvia. RSU has developed close cooperation with several German clinics. The training centre established by RSU at Lukaskrankenhaus in Neuss stands out among these. Another RSU training centre has been established at the Bolzano Hospital in Northern Italy. There are plans to establish additional training centres in the Scandinavian countries as well as in Israel. We work closely with the leading Latvian hospitals where our students and residents undergo their training, such as the university hospitals and the four large regional hospitals – in Daugavpils, Ventspils, Liepāja and soon, in Valmiera.
A recent example is a cooperation agreement signed on 5 March this year between Liepāja City Municipality, Rīga Stradiņš University, Liepāja University and Liepāja Regional Hospital, which also provides practical training for students and residents at Liepāja Hospital.
Respect your experience
We must not automatically copy foreign study programmes, because we must treat our own experience with great respect. The traditions of medical studies at RSU are the longest and richest in Latvia, therefore, the work done by the university should be highly valued. RSU lecturers work in all fields of medicine and have excellent knowledge of their study course and the specifics of working in any one of our state medical institutions.
There are no two completely identical study programmes and each university is different. Latvia needs to respect the specific needs of our healthcare system. For example – we cannot teach something that is suitable for Portugal, but means little when applied to our country.
We are among the best
Young physicians from Germany, Scandinavia and other European countries are automatically entitled to work in their home countries after completing their studies at RSU. Latvia is a stable member of the European Union and our study programme is internationally recognised. Our quality requirements are equivalent to those of Western European universities. However, the path towards a diploma can differ. To use an allegory – in the economically most advanced European countries a student’s road towards a doctor’s certificate is a smooth motorway or highway, but a student here has to navigate rougher roads. Although in both cases students arrive at the same destination, the driving conditions are different. To continue the allegory, it is our job to build roads to suit cars manufactured for Western European conditions.
Europe is both large and small at the same time. You can get a good grasp of the medical community in Europe by making relevant connections. Our colleagues attend conferences and symposiums in many countries where they meet their foreign colleagues and find out first-hand how RSU graduates are succeeding in their careers. Hearing a highly qualified German or Italian clinician say that their son or daughter studied at our university, and that they will also send their second child to Riga, is the best recommendation we can get!
A year ago an international commission re-accredited the Medicine study programme for a maximum term of six years. This means that we already have a medical study programme that is recognised in Europe. This is not enough, however, because we want to be among the best in Europe. If we settle we may find that after six years, when the programme is set to be re-accredited again, the world has progressed beyond us. We should develop along with the modern world of medical education.
Today’s challenges are as follows: internationality, the practicality of education, modern study didactics, the use of technology and innovative methods, simulation-based studies, and modern research. The fact that our priorities are not just empty talk is evidenced by RSU hosting one of the biggest research events this year in the Baltics – RSU Research Week.
There is a wise saying that we use in our everyday work – if you want to stay where you are, go forward, but if you want to actually move ahead, move forward very, very quickly!
Assessment by our partners
Professor Tomass Otto, the Head of the Lukaskrankenhaus Urology Department and the Head of the Clinical Coordination Group for Co-operation with RSU in Medical Education, Research and Development, believes that RSU students have outstanding theoretical knowledge, especially in anatomy and physiology. He also says that practical training provides the opportunity to translate theoretical knowledge into practice, for example by working in an operating room.
Dr. Lydia Pescollderungg, Head of the Department of Paediatrics at the Bolzano Clinic and the Co-ordinator of the cooperation with RSU, emphasises that an international placement gives students a chance to learn various approaches and solutions for the same or similar medical problems. This ultimately leads to choosing the most suitable and efficient treatment solution for the patient.