Financing Your Medical Degree Abroad

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Before deciding to study medicine in Europe, you will need to think about how you will be financing your medical degree abroad.

To help you make an informed choice, we interviewed two current students that study in Bulgaria:

David, a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree holder self-funds his medical degree with additional support from his family and friends. He mainly works in the UK as a clinical support worker for the NHS.

Naz, a Biomedical Science graduate from St. George’s University, also works in the NHS as a healthcare assistant. She has partly self-funded herself especially during her first few years of studies. She now receives help from her family to finish off her degree.

We discussed the challenges of financing a medical degree abroad. This article will give you an insight into the life of a self-funded student. Through their experience, we hope to address key concerns about financing your medical degree abroad.

What you need to know about the finances of studying abroad:

1. Tuition Fee Payments and Student Loans

Most universities in Eastern Europe do not provide loans or grants to help with the course fees. This means that you will have to find an alternative way to fund your studies. 

At €7,000 a year for the average tuition fees, plus expenses, financing your medical degree abroad may be tricky. However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Before starting the application to your university of choice, you will be notified about the annual tuition fees and all the other costs included in your offer of admission.

Bulgarian fee payments are in made in two instalments. 50% of fees are due at the beginning of the first semester (typically in September) and the other 50% of the fees are due at the beginning of the second semester(typically in March). Breaking down the tuition payments can be an advantage as it gives you ample time to save up.

Did you plan to self-fund before you came to Bulgaria? If no, can you please explain what led to this?

No, my reason for coming to Bulgaria was based on the advertisement of Graduate Student loans for Foreign students. Self-Funding was unfortunately due to graduate loans no longer being issued.

– David

2. Different Cities Have Different Costs

Although Bulgaria is generally known to be a cheap destination in Europe, budgeting is a very important consideration when moving to study medicine abroad. 

So, consider areas where the cost of living is low, but you also enjoy a decent quality of life. For example, Pleven, a smaller city with not so much to do but everything is within walking distance. Accommodation in Pleven is also relatively cheaper than in other cities in Bulgaria. In contrast to the larger cities such as Plovdiv or Sofia, offering good restaurants, historical sites, entertainment, etc.

What are your total costs (including accommodation, travel, food etc) approx. every month/year?

This is a tricky question as it varies month to month and has been different every year as I’ve moved flats, lived alone and sometimes had roommates (for example less than £100pm when I was living in university halls or £350pm in an apartment). As for the other living costs my budget is roughly £150 (again varies monthly and if I am travelling etc). This gives me enough I am able to live very comfortably and by that, I mean I am able to INDULGE!! I have enough for social activities, going out and eating out etc.

– Naz

3. Accommodation Costs 

The biggest killer in terms of finances is accommodation and everything that comes with it (rent, bills, etc). So, when thinking about where you want to study, you don’t necessarily need the finest apartment. 

Ideally, you’d like to have an apartment similar to UK standards and although you will find this, it will come at a sizable price. 

  • Most universities offer boarding facilities – Student hostels with shared facilities (communal areas, kitchen and sleeping) which means you save a rather large sum of money.
  • Geographically, apartments further from the university are cheaper. 
  • You can also share with other students (two or three-bedroom apartments) – we offer a range of apartment options and prices with our branch, MedConnect Apartments.

Tips To Overcome Financial Obstacles

1. Don’t compare yourself to others

You may feel like comparing yourself to others who can fully-fund or worry that they might be looking down on you. Stop! There is a multitude of reasons for needing to self-fund, and none of these makes you less of a prospective medical doctor.

2. Options available for financing your medical degree abroad

Think about the options available to you to finance your medical degree abroad. There are various possibilities and you will have to choose the right ones for you:

  • Pay in full or in instalments
  • Part time work 
  • Private loan 
  • Crowdfunding
  • Financial help from family and friends

Some students also choose to take a gap year to save up before starting their degrees. This may be something that you can also consider before starting your application.

Do you have any advice/tips for anyone who is considering to self-fund their degree (work alongside studying)?

A clear plan has to be established before considering studying: 1. Take some time to establish a good mental/physical welling. This may include travelling, arts, poetry or a hobby that brings respite before coming to studying. 2. During your time out, establish the exact money you need for your tuition fees, set it aside. This requires working, cutting down on unnecessary expenses and spending on only the NECESSITIES and not the WANTS (treat them as luxuries). 3. Most important thing is PRIORITISING THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS E.G. KEEPING A ROOF OVER YOUR HEAD, HEATING WATER AND INTERNET.

– David

Have a good support network – It can get really overwhelming really fast so having someone to talk to was one of the things that got me through those times. 2. You will find other students who were in a similar situation to you and this will be helpful emotionally! 3. Lastly as much as studying is important, don’t forget to LIVE! After all, for some of you this might be the only university experience so make the most of it

– Naz

3. Seek help from friends and family

Sometimes loved ones who wish to see us succeed are more than happy to help out. It can be worthwhile talking to them to find out if this is a possibility for you. This may not be possible for some but don’t worry, you can use the alternative options instead.

4. Make use of your holidays

Using your breaks such as public holidays, summer, Easter and Christmas, you can fly back and work in the UK. Considering that fees are paid in instalments you can make the most of these holidays to allow you to foreplan for the instalments. 

Flights are also very cheap, especially when booked in advance thus saving you a lot of costs. Working in the NHS can also help you gain valuable experience for once you are a doctor:

  • Temp agencies – signing up with a few of these should provide you with work anytime you are available. They connect you with the right jobs quickly and temporarily. 
  • NHS Professionals – providing you with opportunities to book shifts as and when you are available. Various roles are available such as healthcare assistants.

How do you fund your degree and living expenses, and how often do you travel back home to work?

I travel back to the UK regularly to work for NHS as a healthcare worker. In addition, my family and friends provide financial support. I travel often, initially it was 2/3 times a month. However currently its 1/2 times a month.

– David

Do you work in Bulgaria? If no why not?

No, it would be very difficult due to the language barrier and sadly the pay rates are quite low! And due to the financial constraints it would not be ideal.

– Naz

5. Adapt to your schedule

Medicine is a very intensive course and requires a lot of time. However, after your 2nd year, your schedule of studying will become flexible as will your teachers. 

Allowing you to rearrange classes (possibly) so you can have extra time off during holidays or leave earlier to work. This however varies and cannot be promised with every teacher. 

How are you able to balance your academics with your job especially during exams, tests, classes, etc?

Finding a balance is relative to your circumstances. You have to ask yourself what the best solutions to this situation are and from all of those solutions, you go by the best possible, most realistic and practical solution that will help at that moment of time. However, these solutions are dynamic and require you to adapt to changing situations to find a relative balance between academia and work during exams, tests, classes as well as social events – you cannot be a workaholic.

– David

Final Thoughts 

There’s no denying that studying medicine abroad is a challenge: theoretically, logistically, and in practice. However, if you take your time, weigh up your options, and ultimately decide it’s the right choice for you, then it can work. 

These students above are proof, as are the many students you will meet when you decide to study medicine abroad. 

We asked the students if they regret coming to Bulgaria, and here is what they had to say:

This is a question without a definitive answer – there are too many variables to consider. In regards to the quality of education, I would have to say that the manner in which we are taught and examined is definitely different from the UK.

And yes, the language barrier does hinder the clinical aspect of learning a little bit, so for that reason UK medical schools would be better! However, there are ways around that! Our assistant professors have translated for us when we were unable to understand the patient or there are many private tutors available that can teach Bulgarian if one is interested (highly recommended!).

A positive aspect of the teaching system in Bulgaria is that the 3rd – 5th year is mostly clinical, and we are constantly exposed to patients and even have plenty of opportunities to observe surgeries!

The thing about PMU is that there are many learning opportunities available and a lot of the services are easier to access in comparison to UK medical schools, you just need to ask! So, for example, some assistant professors are happy to allow students to shadow a shift outside of lessons, practice certain procedures/ skills such as auscultation etc.

Lastly, you have to remember that living costs (food, cinema, drinks, experiences etc) are significantly cheaper than England and so it’s much easier to have a great social life! In conclusion, I would say the answer to this question would vary from person to person! But after having spent 4.5 years here, personally I have zero regrets choosing Bulgaria as a place to study! The people that I have met here (international students and locals) and the experiences we have shared, I would never want to take that away. Although it’s far from perfect, I have fallen in love with this beautiful county, and will be extremely sad when it’s time to say goodbye!

– Naz

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