Having been in Eastern Europe for three years now, I’ve learned a lot about what life is like as a medical student abroad. Studying medicine in Bulgaria, for the most part, is good. But it’s not without its challenges.
If you’re thinking about studying medicine here it’s important you get some impartial insight. Not all Bulgarian medical schools are the same of course. And knowing a bit more about what life here is like could help you in making a decision.
The story of how I came to study here? Hardly conventional either. So recognise that when I discuss my individual experiences studying as a mature student. Because my opinions could be a lot different given my background and experience.
Is Bulgaria a Good Place to Study?
Let’s talk about Bulgaria as a country first. For the most part? I like it. It’s varied, easy to travel around and has anything you’ll likely to need as a student or expat living here.
But it has its challenges too. Especially in terms of the level of bureaucracy to things – and how difficult these things can be when you don’t have an expert grasp of the language. This can make things stressful at times; especially if you need to get visas, open and manage bank accounts, pay bills or use local transport to reach certain places.
I used to travel the country often in my first and second years, taking the sleeper train from Varna to Sofia. A couple of times things would go wrong on the train and – because my language skills weren’t exactly great – I’d have no idea what people were trying to tell me. That can be frustrating at times.
In all honesty though Bulgaria is a good place to study. A lot of people (and almost all younger people) speak a high level of English. Meaning problems can be easily solved. Even if they do take more time than they would otherwise.
The universities have good support networks too. Owing to the fact there are many international students here. So there is the potential to make friends from all over.
Here’s where I see more advantages too:
- Living costs are cheap (you can get by on a minimum 700-900 Euros a month, although I’m sure there are exceptions)
- International programs are diverse (students from many different countries and cultures)
- Core medicine curriculum in line with international standards
- Pace of the degree (six-years) isn’t as hectic as the US or UK
- Opportunities for European travel
- Widens your life experience as an international student
Medical University of Varna
Readers of this site will know my personal experiences as a student in Bulgaria come from my time studying at Medical University Varna. This is a school on the Black Sea coast of the country, in its third largest city (population-wise).
The reasons I chose this University? Have a lot to do with the location. Varna is a nice port city. Helped by the fact it has a great beach and large influx of tourists every summer. That gives the place an exciting buzz.
The University here is, from what I understand, standard in comparison to other universities in the country. The international program runs in English. And is a six-year long program with an internship year at the end. Years one to three are mainly preclinical, with a little hospital teaching throughout the third.
My experiences at the University have been good. I feel like the course has given me the structure needed to master core concepts of medicine. While the exams have been challenging enough too.
Professors are usually very approachable and support any questions you might have. And their English is of a very high standard that it’s not often you’ll misunderstand things or get confused. Things are done very systematically.
Of course not every University is perfect. And studying at Medical University Varna is no exception here.
Things I often find frustrating? The lack of student support – most of the times things are resolved between international students themselves. And sometimes the fact exams aren’t standardised in a way I feel they’d be fairer.
You can learn more about how European medical school exams work here.
But a lot of these stresses and strains go with the territory of being an international student; new in a different culture etc. So it’s important to remain impatient and not get too frustrated with the educational system for your own sake. As well as to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
What is the Best Medical University in Bulgaria?
The best medical university in Bulgaria, if you avoid rankings, is the one that’s right for you. But if you don’t want to avoid the rankings? According to 2020’s report it’s Sofia University St. Clement Ohridski. With Medical University Varna in a very respectable second.
But here’s where I’ll say I’d avoid rankings entirely. They don’t really tell you anything about how the quality of education or student life. And they change from year to year.
Not to mention who judges and how they are judged.
Instead I’d say do your individual research. Speak to students at the Universities you’re interested in. Ask them for their honest opinion. Don’t go by what an agency or an advert – or the University website itself – says.
Think about too what type of person you are. Do you enjoy city living? In which case Sofia, Varna or Plovdiv may be better for you than say Pleven. You’ll also need to consider how often you plan to go home too. So pick somewhere close to an airport that makes that easier.
Education-wise I’d say any of the Bulgarian medical schools will deliver fairly on what they promise. You’ll walk out with a European-standard education. A degree that will let you practice anywhere in the world.
And one I can vouch for having seen plenty of my friends graduate to go into jobs in Germany, UK, Sweden and beyond.
Just make sure though – as I’ve seen it happen with one or two students – that you check with the medical licensing organisations of the country you plan on working in. They should, for the most part, accept any of these Universities qualifications. But it’s still a good idea to check.
Further things I’d think about:
- What is the international make-up of this university? (mainly German, British etc – Varna, for example, is mainly German. Plovdiv British)
- What extracurricular opportunities are there for me? Yes, you’ll have plenty of free time
- What training opportunities are there for me? Research, clinical workshops etc. (Plovdiv is excellent for this)
- Are there any opportunities for working outside of school to make some money on the side? Although you can make money online during med school of course
Bulgarian medical universities with international programs taught in English:
I’ve met students from every one of schools these except Trakia. So most of what I write about Bulgarian med school life (aside from Varna) comes from their input and insight.
What are the Entry Requirements for Studying Medicine in Bulgaria?
You’ll be able to find what the entry requirements are for each of these medical schools on their official homepages. Usually these are country specific and in accordance to your high school/further education qualifications.
As of the time of writing, unlike other European medical schools, Bulgarian universities don’t offer graduate programs at this time. Although, there’s nothing stopping you (as my story suggests) from being a graduate on an undergraduate medical program obviously.
Nor is there an age limit (besides being over 18 obviously).
For mature medics like myself? You’ll often be surprised just how many older students you’ll find with stories similar to yours. So don’t be put off by that either.
As for entry requirements coming into these schools from the UK?
According to Medical University Varna’s admissions criteria you’ll need A-levels (minimum of three) with biology and chemistry at C grade or above.
Germans (and all other countries), if you’re interested, have similar criteria. Where these two subjects should be studied in the last years of education. But check to be sure.
The tuition fees at each of these schools (besides Trakia, Pleven and St. Kliment Sofia where its a bit cheaper) is 8,000 Euro per academic year. Loans are possible too. But usually only for certain European countries (Sweden, for example). Degrees of UK and German students are usually privately or self-funded.
Also note that each of these schools usually has an entrance process too. Where you have to sit a University entrance examination (usually in a multiple choice style format) and an English test (if you come from outside the UK).
Controversially perhaps, I’ll say here that these tests are nothing but a check-box exercise for these schools. Failing them, seeing as you’re provided a book of answers beforehand, is near impossible.
Also; please note that the entrance requirements for some of these Universities are hardly strict either.
But I’ll leave those potential negatives there for now.
Should I Study Medicine in Bulgaria?
Only you can ultimately decide if studying medicine in Bulgaria is for you. If you’re on the fence though? Take it from me, it’s definitely worth it. Especially if making it into medicine in your home country is tough but your heart is still set on it.
That dream? Unlikely to go away.
Obviously there’s lots to consider. You’ll want to reach out to students at the schools and see what they have to say. Don’t just go by articles like this or YouTube videos that I share. You need to ask specific questions relevant to you.
Bulgaria is a safe and reliable place to study. Even in hard times like the Covid-19 pandemic, they’ve proven they’ll come through to keep your studies on track. Not delay or suspend your graduation date either.
The schools mentioned here provide the framework for a solid medical education. But, don’t be under any illusions. They won’t hold your hand. You still have to put in the time and dedication.
A lot of the criticism other students pile on Bulgarian medical schools I feel is unwarranted. If you’re a disciplined rather than lazy medical student – one who’s constantly looking to better themselves – you’ll have no problems with University life here. Not unless you go deliberately looking at least.
Also note that they will fail you if you don’t work. I’ve seen it happen too many times to suggest otherwise. So don’t be under the pretence that all these schools care about is money.
Reputations are important. In Bulgaria just as anywhere else. So your education is what you make it.
One last thing; due to how healthcare works in Bulgaria there is one potential pitfall. Clinical experience.
Simply put, nurses do a lot of the medical procedures here that are expected of doctors elsewhere. Cannulas, catheters, bloods etc. So unless you talk your way into getting hands on experience in the hospitals here, don’t expect to come out with the same clinical expertise as a student studying in your home country.
That’s why these programs offer summer internships in both the third and fourth years. These are designed to help you work on these skills – despite doctors being often too busy to show you.
German students tend to get round this quite easy by organising these placements back home. For the rest of us though? This can be something of a problem.
Bulgaria is a good place to study. Apply yourself here, dedicate yourself to your studies and you’ll definitely be in a good position for the future.
But don’t expect the same level of support that maybe you’d get back home. International programs often don’t have the scope for that. And your clinical skills can often fall short as a result.
Still, if you’re struggling to get into medicine back home (or constrained by other factors) and definitely don’t want to do anything else?
This is definitely a solid option.