I’ve been a medical student at Varna (Bulgaria) for four years. I’ve learned a lot in that time and am happy to put this together in the hope it helps future students or anybody else thinking about studying here.
Back when I was first starting out, there was very little honest information available like this. So I know how hard research can be!
In this article you’ll learn:
- Unique things about Varna Medical University you won’t read on agency/service websites
- Honest answers to common questions
- Where else you can go to get reliable information on studying medicine in Bulgaria (and elsewhere in Europe)
Hopefully this can help provide a little more unique insight into med school life in Varna and beyond.
Let’s get started.
10 Things To Know Before Studying At Varna Medical University
Obviously each of these things are based on my own personal experience. You must take what I write as opinion, not fact.
As I’d recommend you do for all types of research, stay open minded and ask questions. Don’t take anything as absolute. Including what I write here!
That said, here they are…
The biggest two demographs that make up the student population on the international program at MU Varna are German and British (Asian Indian).
NOTE: if this made your cringe you need to know who I am – an Irish-British white guy who doesn’t speak German or any of the Indian dialects!
But besides those two, nationalities are quite broad.
Because of this breakdown though, “grouping” – the base group of 12 people you start your first semester with and stay with until the end – can be pretty homogenous. When these groups are made (when you first register) the same nationalities tend to stick together.
If you find yourself in one of those groups don’t be surprised if you either a) feel like you want to move or b) be asked to move to make way for someone else (usually a friend of people in the group of the same demograph).
This has happened to a couple of people I know.
2. Social Life
As mentioned before, most of Medical University Varna’s social life centers around either of these two demographics. Both groups, en masse, lead pretty separate social lives. Something that’s bolstered by a shared common language and culture.
For someone outside of those demographs trying to break in and make friends, it can be tough. Although the individual members of these groups are warm and friendly as individuals, and will no doubt welcome you when and where possible, integrating fully can be a challenge.
Thankfully there’s a whole bunch of other social events that help make meeting people easier.
Playing sports can also help as this tends to break down any differences quickly.
That’s why I play badminton, football and cricket (and basically anything else). So I can make friends with people from all different backgrounds and nationalities – including Germans and British Asians!
3. Student Representation
One of the biggest frustrations felt by a lot of students here, especially those outside of the demographics mentioned, is a lack of student representation.
Many students feel like their collective voices aren’t being heard when it comes to things like pandemic (Corona) policy, exam and internship arrangements etc.
While there have been several “arguments” among students concerning this matter, with some arguing that representation isn’t necessary or that “it’s the price you pay for going to a University outside your native country”, the discussions still go on.
Obviously the university’s role in all this is one of a business. Student welfare is basically non-existent as far as international student’s go – despite the odd announcement or offer of counselling here and there.
But things are improving.
Students are gaining representation and starting things all the time to try and help each other. MedicoPlexus.com, a project I’m involved in, offers a lot of academic-style guidance. While the new Student Representative body is also helping.
Student life here is whatever you make it.
4. Oral Exams
I’ve written more broadly about European med school exams before. To anyone who’s not used to the system, they can appear odd. Especially the “oral” component of these exams which is essentially a one-on-one chat with the professor.
The one thing to understand about exams here is that they are not standardised. Every student sits an exam with a different set of questions.
Although this looks quite good on the surface – making it difficult to cheat or copy another student for example – it does have some cons too.
Case in point you studying over 250 syllabus points only to draw one of the most complex topics while a colleague of yours gets something easier.
It can be difficult for some students not to get frustrated by that.
5. Teaching Hospital
You probably won’t even step inside here until your third year and when you do you might be quite surprised. Unlike the university’s other buildings, this is the least maintained. And possible the busiest and most crowded (especially as the international program cohorts seem to get bigger year on year).
Don’t expect to learn much in the way of procedures or “practical medicine”. Teaching doctors generally don’t have a great amount of time to give to you and you sometimes get the feeling you can be something of a nuisance to them.
Note: But this is pretty much the case for any teaching hospital anywhere in the world so it’s by no means a criticism of Bulgaria!
Instead figure out what you want to learn to do in medicine – i.e. blood taking, basic surgical procedures etc – first and then learn how to do them by either a) asking someone nicely or b) resorting to YouTube and your own initiative.
Learning Bulgarian can make a huge difference here. Learn it well and you can try and join the Bulgarian students to attend the on-call teams.
Again, it’s in your power.
6. Formalities & Enrollment
One thing you have to understand about being a student at Medical University Varna is that bureacracy is the norm. There’s a lot of manual paper filling that takes place – despite digital systems supposedly being in place.
Case in point is enrollment, which you’re expected to do at the start of every semester. To do this you have to purchase a form, fill it out in pen and show receipt of your fee payment. Then you have to stand in a line for half an hour or so waiting to be processed.
And there are examples of this with each course also. Especially with the subject forms and exam cards you fill out at the beginning.
The whole system is in need of an update and clearer information on the website, or student literature, as to exactly how everything works.
The students office does do a good job of keeping students up to date though. Check in on the Facebook group and stay up to date with any news and notifications.
7. Buildings and Restaurants
Medical University Varna’s main University building is great. It’s clean, it’s nicely decorated come holidays and it’s generally well cared for. And the story is the exact same for the dental and pharmacy buildings too.
Another great tip is the discount you get on food from the restaurant attached to the main building.
Although the admissions literature doesn’t say anything about this and you’ll eventually figure it out yourself, you’ll get a killer discount here as long as you have an “official” card (it’s actually the library card) that can be scanned at the counter.
Well worth visiting a couple of times a week when you’re in need of decent, cheap food.
8. First Year
Preparing for the first year of medical school in Varna is more about adjusting to the country rather than any academic challenge (if you’re interested I do have some advice here: How To Succeed In Medical School: Top Tips For Anxious First Years).
My most important piece of advice here is to try and get as comfortable as you can first before worrying too much about exams and academic work.
Focus on finding a nice apartment, socializing and getting to know people and finding your way around the city.
Despite what some professors will try to tell you (who can be quite abrupt and unnecessarily displinarian in the first years), most of what you learn that first year will be forgetten very quickly.
So treat this introductory year as “feeling the place out” as opposed to hardcore med student mode.
9. Medical University of Varna Library
Aside from the main campus library, which can get pretty crowded, there are two smaller (but really nice) libraries in the both the pharmacy and dental buildings.
One cool thing about each of these is that they have all the medical textbooks (as well as all the ones listed on my recommendations page) available to read and reference. Meaning there’s no real reason for you to go out and drop cash on these yourself.
And if you do want to have a hard copy to take home first check out the surrounding “copy shops”.
Ask around in your first couple of days to locate them.
10. MU Varna Curriculum
If you’re not familar with med school curriculums you can check out my article talking about them here. MU Varna’s curriculum is a traditional one. It follows the German system very closely – courses are subject based (physiology, anatomy etc) and not system (organ)-based.
For students of other nations this curriculum has its pros and cons. American students here planning to take the USMLE Step 1 for example, won’t cover enough class material to do well in it until at least their fourth year (in the US they do it after the second). While other students will argue its more “slower-paced” and “detailed” than perhaps American or British med school.
One caveat of this though is that it makes it tough to transfer to schools outside the EU.
So that’s something to at least be aware of.
Common Questions About Varna Medical University
Learning about all the different med schools you can go to in Bulgaria and searching out authentic information for each is a minefield. Here I’ll do my best to answer some of the more common questions that come up for someone doing their research.
Is Varna The Best Medical University In Bulgaria?
Measuring the “best medical university in Bulgaria” isn’t an easy task. A lot of agency websites will have their own lists based on thin data designed on selling you particular universities. Because there’s no reputable ranking body, like US News (for US med schools), you can’t say what the best Bulgarian med school is.
You often just have to take whatever website you’re reading’s word for it.
Personally speaking, it’s impossible to say if Varna is the best medical university in Bulgaria. I have no experience of any of the others. But no other med student studying at a different place in Bulgaria has convinced me theirs’ is any better.
My own view is that they’re basically all very similar.
How Does The Varna Medical University Application Work?
Application to Varna Medical University can be started through their website. You’ll have to fill out basic details and attach study credentials (including exam certificates and high school diplomas etc). The requirements are different depending on which country you apply from.
Besides that you’ll have to get some documents translated and notarized in Bulgarian. It’s really easy (and cheap) to do this through a contact in the country. You can also find a bunch of reputable places who can do this for you online.
Once all these are taken care of the University will then ask you to do an “entrance exam”. You’ll also need to do an English proficiency exam (created and implemented by the University) too.
Both are exceptionally easy.
What Is The MU Varna Exam Schedule Like?
The MU Varna exam schedule is usually announced a month in advance and is uploaded to the Blackboard system (all students have access to this).
There are two exam periods at the end of each semester. Re-sits for any outstanding exams are scheduled at the end of this “official” period and take place before University starts back up again.
Note that there has been some overlap with that in the past.
Do You Need An Agency To Apply For MU Varna?
Despite what you’ll see on YouTube or Google Ads, you don’t need an agency. Many parts of the application you can take care of yourself (or find a student on the ground at the University to help you).
One of my biggest regrets is paying the best part of $2500 to an agency to process my application. Yes, they did take care of all the paperwork and met me at airport arrivals, but for that fee I did expect something more.
Using an agency can be a good idea if you want to avoid stress and save time however.
Personally I just feel, knowing what I know now, that I’d have done things differently. Back then there was nobody like me who had a blog or YouTube channel suggesting any other option!
Want To Learn More About Studying Medicine In Europe?
The moderators at r/medicalschoolEU have put together an excellent Wiki from several people in the community there (I’ve also contributed).
You can see the country-specific guides on the sidebar.
I highly recommend hanging out there and asking questions if you want to learn more about what it’s like studying medicine in Europe (as well as the different med schools in Bulgaria).
It’s also worth using the search feature here for University-specific questions or med school related topics.
Interested In Studying At Varna Medical University?
I’ve had a quite a few people interested in studying medicine in Varna contact me via this website. I’m always happy to chat and help advise where possible.
If you’re keen to learn more – and get an honest opinion on what it’s like studying here – please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me directly via my About page.
Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.