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Old 01.02.2012, 13:58
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Medical school

Hi everyone,
I'm an American, hoping for some advice about medical school from someone who is a bit familiar with both the Swiss and American systems. I have a Bachelor's degree in biology and am interested in going to medical school. The original plan was to go in the U.S., where a bachelor's degree is required before enrolling. However, now that I am married to a Swiss citizen, I am eligible to go to school in Switzerland.

The big advantage of going in Switzerland is that the schools here are (comparatively) easy to get into, and much, much, much cheaper. It also sounds, from speaking to students, that student life for med students is more relaxed here.

The disadvantages are that school here is 6 years, vs. 4 in the U.S.; that the other students would be about 18 (I would be 25); that the school is in German (I do speak it but of course not as well as I speak English); and that it is located in Switzerland--where my family and friends are not. (As my user name implies, I'm not completely in love with CH. It's certainly not terrible, but...not my favorite place either.)

Either way I think I would have to take two licensing exams if I want to be able to practice in both the U.S. and CH

Does anyone have an advice, especially maybe about the quality of education in both places, that would make my decision easier?

Or to those of you who are not in medicine...would you spend 5 years away from home to save $160,000 in student loans?

Thanks in advance for any advice!
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:16
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Re: Medical school

Umm, what med students did you speak to? Because I used to go out with one and lived with another and they were ALWAYS studying. Every day, all day.

Easy to get into is relative, there is a very strict numerus clausus AND you have to do three months of "civil service" type work, as in, change nappies in an old people's home or look after disabled people before you can even start studying. First year is basically hardcore chemistry, biology and physics, I can't remember whether anatomy is in there too but you are usually three to four people working on dissecting a body (not enough bodies) most afternoons. There's a lot of practising on each other too so if you are squeamish about having your fellow students mess around with you, the Swiss system is not for you.
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:22
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Re: Medical school

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There's a lot of practising on each other too so if you are squeamish about having your fellow students mess around with you, the Swiss system is not for you.
What!!!?? Is that true???
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:24
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Re: Medical school

I studies medicine in South America, and had the opportunity of working with students from the US and they were completely unprepared and did not have much experience in dealing with patients. Having said that, maybe that was just my experience, but having been to the doctor in the US and here I would definitely go to Med School here in CH. The question would be...the language?
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:26
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Re: Medical school

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There's a lot of practising on each other too so if you are squeamish about having your fellow students mess around with you, the Swiss system is not for you.
That happens everywhere I remember giving injections to my fellow students in order to practice, mainly vaccinations etc. Listening to eachother's hearts and lungs BEFORE going to the patients but believe me we were not giving eachother proctos
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:31
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Re: Medical school

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First year is basically hardcore chemistry, biology and physics, I can't remember whether anatomy is in there too but you are usually three to four people working on dissecting a body (not enough bodies) most afternoons. There's a lot of practising on each other too so if you are squeamish about having your fellow students mess around with you, the Swiss system is not for you.
Basic, non-pathological anatomy and histology are also taught in 1st and 2nd year; I used to assist in histology practicals.
Basic statistics is also taught AFAIK.
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:36
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Re: Medical school

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The big advantage of going in Switzerland is that the schools here are (comparatively) easy to get into, and much, much, much cheaper. It also sounds, from speaking to students, that student life for med students is more relaxed here.

The disadvantages are that school here is 6 years, vs. 4 in the U.S.; that the other students would be about 18 (I would be 25); that the school is in German (I do speak it but of course not as well as I speak English);

Thanks in advance for any advice!
My first bit of advice to you would be to read this site about studying medicine in Switzerland.
My second bit of advice is to check out whether the students you asked were actually Swiss medical students and/or whether they were joking/lying. I've known a couple of medicine students and it didn't seem very relaxed to me so goodness only knows what it is like in America if it is 'worse' there.
The students would, of course, not be 18 years of age (where on earth did you get that bit of info from?). Maturität is usually achieved around the age of 20. Then comes the practical bit...
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:38
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Re: Medical school

Histology, yes, I forgot about that. My former flatmate was doing dentistry but they are in the same courses as human medicine at the start, she left the house at 7.45 and came back at around 22.30, except on Sundays when the library wasn't open, then she studied in her room. I think her "day off" was coming home a bit earlier on Saturdays and going partying at night. She still got up at 7.30 the next day to study.
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:44
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Re: Medical school

My daughter is a vet and the first 2 years all the students are together (dentist, vet, human) and believe me it was a hell of a lot of work.
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:47
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Re: Medical school

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The students would, of course, not be 18 years of age (where on earth did you get that bit of info from?). Maturität is usually achieved around the age of 20. Then comes the practical bit...
This is a very valid point, most of your peers would be around the same age as you. From my experience, the majority of medical/dental students are around 21-22 when they start. Some are quite a bit older, even into their late 20s and 30s.
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:49
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Re: Medical school

Some in my daughters class were 40ish
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Old 01.02.2012, 14:51
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Re: Medical school

My advice is based on numerous family members and friends who studied outside of their country of practice.

I'd generally always say don't do it. Under almost any circumstance, try to study in the country where you plan to reside/practice. It's not just a simple "take extra exams" in most cases. You have to learn all the brand names plus variations in protocol for loads of stuff. You will have both theoretical and practical examinations and the entire process can take at least a year.

Don't assume your internship here will be accepted in the US. Case in point is a friend who studied in the UK and went back to Canada. Her internship was not recognized from the UK, in part because it's only a year for registration there. So, she had to do the two-year one required in Canada. But she was a lucky one to even get it because there are more med students than places. And on top of that, most places go to current students in Canada.

If you must study here, ensure you scrupulously go through every detail involved in going back to the US and plan accordingly, including being ready for any changes that may come between now and the time you plan to return.

P.S. Also note that speaking German isn't going to teach you the German words for many medical terms - terms you won't be learning in English.
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Old 01.02.2012, 15:28
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Re: Medical school

Forgot to mention that here your only allowed to take each exam twice, if you dont pass your out even if youve alredy been studying for 4 years
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Old 01.02.2012, 16:18
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Re: Medical school

As I recall the US has very different licensing requirements from here. If you study here in CH then you better prepare yourself to do the Foreign Medical Doctors exam on top of all the other exams as this will open the doors for you to be able to apply for a residency program in the states. Studying here in der Schweiz could also reduce your chances at getting accepted into some of those better residency programs over there. Just because you are American doesn't mean that your credentials will be recognized there so I'd check into that closely if I were you.
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Old 01.02.2012, 17:18
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Re: Medical school

My thoughts for a penny (I am involved in teaching 2nd and some 3rd year Med, Dentistry & Biomed at Fribourg):

- more relaxed than US? Possibly, but then again you are studying 2 years longer here

- as PaddyG said, med students here start around 21-22 years of age....after military service, the majority of the males are older than this.

- easier to get in...but easier to get kicked out. As mentioned earlier you can sit the exams twice but if you fail you are out and can't reapply for another 5 years.

- having said that, to get in you will (most probably) have to prove language proficiency

- cheaper here? in fees, yes, but from what I know of foreign doctors trying to work in NZ, you will most probably spend all that you saved on the licencing exams

- lifestyle - don't forget that it would be a big committment on the part of your wife too!

If you are wanting to do medicine because it is a long-held ambition and you have an idea of the reality of medicine as a career (it's not all Scrubs, ER and Casualty), and if you will be in Switzerland for at least the 6 years it will take to complete the studies + some extra for work experience, then the opportunity to study medicine in Switzerland should be grasped with both hand...but otherwise I would approach with caution.

...but that's just my opinion

Last edited by kiwigeek; 01.02.2012 at 17:21. Reason: Forgot info about age of student
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Old 02.02.2012, 03:26
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Re: Medical school

Thanks for all the advice--it's nice to hear fresh opinions. Saying it's 'easier to get in' or 'more relaxed' I really only mean relative--not that it's easy anywhere. I think the 'pflegepraktikum' was recently discontinued, does anyone know differently?
And while you have to take a difficult entry exam here, in the u.s. you have to earn a Bsc, get excellent marks in chem, bio, physics, and calculus, have practical (volunteer) experience, biological research experience, three letters of recommendation, a personal interview--and a difficult entry exam. I'm sure the Swiss students are just as smart--but they sure have fewer hoops to jump through! That's all.
I heard though is that the first two years are the hardest here, and already having a degree in biology should help me there (at least I sure hope so!). And the students here still have time for hobbies and travel in their school breaks-- I believe most u.s. schools continue all summer. Of course here, I think there are technically summers off...to be spent studying. So maybe it's just as intense in the sense of non-stop. Does anyone know? Would I be able to travel and visit my family in these six years, or basically chained to my books?

And of course one thing that I think of when I think of 'more relaxed student life' is just not being quite as broke! Less money stress would make school stress easier to handle.

Good point about licensing exam fees--I would need take the USMLEs and do my residency in the u.s. to practice there, and don't know what they cost or how difficult they are to organize from abroad. We have many foreign med school grads in the us and all are required to do this. I would need to look into whether or not a residency (=Assistenzarztzeit) in the u.s. would be acceptable to someday practice in Switzerland, as well as what my chances are of finding a placement when I am not a US grad. :/

Thanks for the info about age--most of the people I know here finished their matura with 18-19 (some younger!) which is why I assumed they'd be younger ( maybe that is specific to Kanton ZH?). But I forgot about the military service.

kiwigeek--do you mean Zach Braff won't be there? Crap, in that case, nevermind!

I should clarify that my german is good enough to go to school, I'm taking anatomy in German now, but it adds an extra layer of challenge, for sure. Also, I would ideally want to be able to work in both Switzerland and the US later--my husband is Swiss so we will likely spend some years here and some there. Additionally important is that I could begin studying a year earlier in CH...which effectively shortens the two years longer to one year longer.

More advice is welcome! Thanks.
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Old 02.02.2012, 09:34
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Re: Medical school

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Don't assume your internship here will be accepted in the US. Case in point is a friend who studied in the UK and went back to Canada. Her internship was not recognized from the UK, in part because it's only a year for registration there. So, she had to do the two-year one required in Canada. But she was a lucky one to even get it because there are more med students than places. And on top of that, most places go to current students in Canada.
The Canadian situation is quite different from the USA one.

Yes, you do have to resit exams for the USA - from memory, before you begin to work as a doctor at all there. ( ie: not even as a supervised one - but I stand to be corrected on that)

In Canada, there are also a registration exam, but the biggest problem does seem to be that Canada just does not pay for all the docrtors that are needed, and the jobs that are available do go to Canadians before foreigners.

In the UK, there is a 2 year residency, not a one year.

ALso, in the UK, med training is usually 5 years of uni, but for those who already have a degree, there are uni's that have a 4 year course ( sae workload really, just at a faster pace, with the presumption that one already knows how to use a library, write an essy, so research etc) Although you can probably save a lot of money by studying in CH, have a look at the 4 yr UK option to see if it is also cheaper than the USA ( you will be paying fees as a foreigner though)
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Old 02.02.2012, 10:36
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Re: Medical school

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In the UK, there is a 2 year residency, not a one year.
I double-checked and she did one year only. This is the UK in N. Ireland. But we are going back I think around 5 or more years here. It was definitely one year only. Maybe requirements have recently changed?

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ALso, in the UK, med training is usually 5 years of uni, but for those who already have a degree, there are uni's that have a 4 year course ( sae workload really, just at a faster pace, with the presumption that one already knows how to use a library, write an essy, so research etc) Although you can probably save a lot of money by studying in CH, have a look at the 4 yr UK option to see if it is also cheaper than the USA ( you will be paying fees as a foreigner though)
Yep, she did a 5 year program. She didn't even need the uni beforehand that she did back home but I imagine it helped her to get in. Students were all younger than her though.
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Old 03.02.2012, 00:28
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Re: Medical school

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- lifestyle - don't forget that it would be a big committment on the part of your wife too!
Isn't the OP a female?
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Old 03.02.2012, 10:51
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Re: Medical school

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Isn't the OP a female?
Yes, but maybe kiwigeek was keeping things open in case I married a woman? (i didn't, but awesome that I could here!).

Thanks for the idea about Britain--I did look into it, but from what I found, you need to be a UK citizen to be eligible. I think my family's British citizenship lapsed about 200 years ago...sad lack of foresight . I only looked at one program though, I'll check if they all require that.
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