If you had told me back in 2014, when I was in my first year of A levels, that was going to be studying medicine in Bulgaria, I would not have believed you. Since Year 9, I wanted to be a doctor and I had a plan of how things were going to go. I was going to do great in my A levels and then get the grades to apply for medicine and get in. However, things didn't quite go according to plan.
I didn't do as well as I had hoped in my A levels, and I ended up studying Biomedical Sciences (the typical backup for a medical applicant) at the University of Liverpool.
Fast forward 3 years later: I graduated from University of Liverpool, but I was still passionate about studying medicine. I started to research my options and eventually, I was led to studying abroad. I stumbled upon an agency that advised me on how and where to apply. The application process was - thankfully - relatively simple. After various discussions, I was set on going to Pleven Medical University in Bulgaria. It should be noted this application process involved sitting an exam in Biology and Chemistry.
Once I found out that I had passed the exam, everything was official. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I was going to study the course of my dreams! I was anxious about so many things like the language, the culture, the food, etc.
These are a few things that I wish someone had told me before I started studying in Bulgaria:
The main benefit of studying abroad is the cost of living and the cost of accommodation. The cost of living in Bulgaria is significantly less than the price of living in the UK (less than half, in fact), plus the fees there are significantly less also. The fees are usually around €7,500 a year, which is about £6,700. This compares with the UK yearly fees of £9,250.
Also, living abroad means you get independence. You can challenge yourself. You expose yourself to a new culture and a new language. The overall experience makes you more mature and self-reliant, and you can use these skills throughout medical school and later on in life.
The course is taught in English – so there is no need to be fluent in Bulgarian before you get there. But it is important to know a few phrases on arrival, so you can communicate with the locals. Once we start the course, we have Bulgarian lessons twice a week so that we are able to communicate better with patients. It was daunting at first because it is a challenging language to learn, but it does get easier. I would definitely advise anyone considering applying abroad to check the language the course is taught in.
Before going to study there I also had anxieties about things like the food, the people, and whether the quality of education would be as good as the UK.
I kept thinking – would I be the only black girl there? I was anxious about how locals would treat me. To be completely honest, some people look at me strangely because of the colour of my skin. Some people may stare at you in the street or in shops. It is important to remember why you are there and should not let it discourage you from wanting to study there.
Also, it turned out I was not the only black person! To my surprise, they had an ACS (African-Caribbean Society) and other societies that I could contribute to and be part of. The food there isn’t quite the same as the UK, however you quickly get used to it, and it is always exciting to experience a different culture. I would advise you to bring most of your favourite foods with you when you travel!
A common misconception is that the quality of teaching is not as good, and I can say that this is not correct. The quality of teaching is just as good as the UK; the professors are incredibly competent and are fantastic teachers.
Applying for medicine abroad – especially in Europe – is something that has become increasingly popular over the years. The idea at first may sound daunting because it is in a foreign country. After having studied there for almost two years, I can say it is certainly worth it. Getting into medicine in the UK is challenging as it is extremely competitive. If you have a strong passion to study medicine and it doesn’t quite work out for you, it might be worth thoroughly exploring the options available to you - this includes studying medicine abroad. Many of the universities in Europe allow you to return to the UK as long as you fulfil the criteria set out by the UK General Medical Council (GMC). Just make sure that you do the right research beforehand to find the best Medical University for you. I am truly glad that I did not give up after I finished my Biomedical Sciences degree and I followed my heart. I would encourage others to do so too.
Article written by Damola Ojo, 3rd year medical student at Pleven Medical University, Bulgaria