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First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University

Viktoriia Soloveva

2 July 2023

#EDUCATION

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There are five universities in the Czech Republic that offer education programs for medical professions: Charles University, Masaryk University, University of Ostrava, Palacký University in Olomouc and the University of Defence. Each program has its pros and cons, and each can provide students with high-quality education. That being said, many are drawn specifically to the alma mater of Czech universities - the Charles University that offers as many as five medical faculties to choose from.

Alexandra Baranova, author of the GoStudy blog, interviewed the students and graduates of the most prestigious faculty of them all - the First Faculty of Medicine - and asked them what difficulties applicants should be mentally prepared for.

MUDr. Maria Khaidu, graduate of the "General medicine" ("Všeobecné lékařství") Master's program

After graduating from the Charles University, Maria found a job as an oncologist in a city hospital in Znojmo, where she works to this day. But soon she'll be packing her bags - her husband and she are moving to America.

"The teachers are all great specialists. Thanks to their expertise, they make frequent appearances in books as well as the press. Many a time have I opened a magazine and seen an interview there with, say, a surgeon I assisted on a procedure during my third year. We were removing a tumor back then, I spent six hours together with that professor. It was an honor to me.

The education goes as follows. The first three years are lectures only; during the third year, they start letting you examine patients and eventually offer you a practicum at a hospital; years 4, 5, 6 are clinical subjects only. The exams are oral but may also be supplemented with a practicum, or a written test, or all of the above at once. But the oral part is always there.

There are exam periods during the first through third years. After that, there'll be more and more exams, and new subjects will be introduced by the week. For example, you take two weeks of dermatovenerology, then pass the exam, then two more weeks of psychiatry, then another exam, rinse and repeat for the entire semester. Czech textbooks are generally enough, but medical students still prefer English books most of the time - they are usually better than the Czech books and have more pictures and explanations.

The First Faculty uses only three grades: A, B and C, with C amounting to 60-70% of correct answers, which is the minimum score. If you get a D, that means you've failed. I know that in ČVUT or VŠCHT, you can get by even with an E or an F. In any case, if you don't work like a dog, you can forget about graduation. Studying is much harder than working later on.

Those who are admitted to the First Faculty of Medicine at the Charles University must understand that their admission means nothing. This is only the beginning of your struggle. They usually admit a third more students than necessary. Sometimes, there weren't enough seats even in large lecture halls and we had to sit on the stairs, and even still there wasn't enough space for everyone. But the screening later on is brutal. Only 30% of our initial class made it to the sixth year. Most quit during the first and second years, some would give up even during the third and fourth years, and then some would fail the final exams and drop out during the sixth year. I remember that one time when sixteen people were expelled!

I'm moving to the US now, and I've found out recently that the US only recognize the diploma of the First Faculty of Medicine and not any other one. But if you're not moving to the US, there's no need to torture yourself. I simply had no choice back then: out of all the universities I sent my application to and took exams in, the First Faculty of Medicine was the only one I was admitted to. If I had to choose and apply again, I would choose the Masaryk University.

"What did the First Faculty give me outside of a status of being part of "the chosen ones" and a prestigious diploma? It taught me to get out of the toughest situations, instantly focus even under stress, manage my time, use my brain to the fullest, ask questions. I stopped caring about who says what about me. I'm like a tank that fights its way through whenever I need anything. In general, I'm a "must-do" kind of person. I passed over 60 exams in university because I had to. Now that I work in a hospital and happen to not know something, I know where to find someone who will have the knowledge I need. I won't let the situation get worse even if there's a patient lying in front of me and barely breathing. I don't know if there's any other university in the Czech Republic that trains you this hard".

Maria Khaidu, graduate of the "General medicine" Master's program

In the Znojmo hospital, I had several people tell me: "I can tell you graduated from none other than the First Faculty of Medicine. It's clear based on your decisions, your thought process, they way you handle yourself," although I don't notice it myself. Maybe I straighten my back (laughs). First you work your socks off for a diploma, and then it works for you".

Bc. Sofia Panfilova, student of the "Dietology"("Nutriční specialista") Master's program.

Sofia is studying dietology and has a successfully completed "Nutriční terapeut" Bachelor's program under her belt, after which she decided to continue education. She already works in her degree field and has an extensive client base and impressive practical experience.

"There's only one thing I can say about education: it's hard. A difficult entrance exam in the beginning, then non-stop exam periods during the education - all of that puts you under constant pressure. Meanwhile, I can only say very positive things about the teachers. Each one of our major subject teachers are highly professional, reasonable and understanding yet strict at the same.

There's nothing bad I can say about our practicum either. A lot depends on you here: you can listen, you can not listen, you can sleep at a desk, you can not sleep. You'll have to take the exam in any case, and for that you'll have to learn all the material. Upon getting a Bachelor's degree, you have a legal right to work and benefit society, and taking it into account, I wish getting a Master's degree was less stressful and had less mandatory subjects. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The university works in the following way: if you're pursuing a Master's degree full time, it's assumed that you don't have a job but study and take exams day and night, and sometimes you're being scolded as if you were admitted to university just yesterday.

Currently, I'm not satisfied with either the class schedule or the exam schedule. It's one thing when your parents support you and you can focus on studying, but it's very different when you have to work and pay the bills and no one helps you. At the same time, you don't want to just read the textbooks, you want to develop professionally and get practical experience. Except for me, nobody in my class works in their degree field, not counting odd jobs outside their speciality. Interestingly, many don't want to earn a lot, in my opinion, but they want to study and only study instead, so I often get weird looks. But then you eventually learn to simply study according to your own schedule and ignore things like that.

"Another peculiarity of our faculty is unending ambitions and arrogance; those who study here think it's their mission to get excellent grades (by the way, they are important for many because in this case you get a great scholarship). Sure, you won't become an excellent student if you don't know anything, but there is more than one mindset you can have. Say, you could get a "D" because you didn't care and didn't know anything, or you could get a "D" simply because you decided to be done with the exam as soon as possible and then finished learning the rest on your own within the year."

I'm not a nerd by nature, and who am I kidding, having to get up at 5:30 am to go to a practicum in a hospital makes me physically sick. But then you pull yourself together and think to yourself: "If others could, why can't I?" Besides - and that's the most important part - I lover dietology".

MUDr. Daria Sedaya (Starkova), graduate of the "General medicine" ("Všeobecné lékařství") program

After graduation, Daria found a job as a radiologist at the Motol University Hospital (Klinika zobrazovacích metod). She mainly treats children.

"Studying was very hard. Looking back at it, I see that I could've done many things differently. For example, having a good rest is very important. You have to spend at least 15-20 minutes every day doing a sport. There were periods when I studied many days in a row without standing up from the chair and going outside, and it showed. Even if you think you have no free time whatsoever, you have to come up with some sort of a schedule and have the time to go outside. Spend less time on social media - I know from personal experience how addictive they are especially during exam periods. You must eat healthy, it'll give fill you up with the needed energy. You can also try meditating - I discovered it much later, but I think it would've come in handy at university.

"But, of course, there were many positive moments outside endless grinding: spending time with course mates, making friends. In any case, I'm not the type of person who feels nostalgic about the student years and wants to bring them back - not in a million years!"

Daria Sedaya, graduate of the "General medicine" program

MUDr. Denis Kim, graduate of the "General medicine" ("Všeobecné lékařství") program

Denis graduated last summer. He currently works as a radiologist in Karlovy Vary.

"There were a lot of students during the first year, over three hundred people. Only about 35% of them graduated. During the last couple years, there are barely any foreigners left, no more than five. Although there were only 15 of us in the first year. Getting admitted to the Second Faculty of Medicine is harder, but at least they don't expel as many people there. The Third Faculty is said to be the easiest, the education program there is very different.

But the hardest part is probably studying constantly without much of a break because you'll forget everything otherwise since there's too much learning material to cover. Working and studying at the same time is difficult but doable. Quite a lot of students did it in my time. The secret is in planning out your time well for studying, working and having a good rest.

As for the language, I barely had any problems with understanding the teachers. I personally struggle more with the day-to-day language rather than medical terms. I didn't always understand, say, jokes or tales told by a professor or a course mate, since they can only be understood by a Czech or someone who's lived in the Czech Republic for a while".

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