A student’s week: The packed schedule of a US medical student

A regular week for medical students is filled with lectures and practicals regardless what year of studies they are in. Michael Fiedler, a second-year student of General Medicine in the English programme at Masaryk University who comes from the United States, is no exception. When he is not studying, he frequents the gym and has already completed an internship in a cardiac surgery department.

Looking at Michael’s study schedule for the spring semester, it is easy to assume that he couldn’t possibly fit in anything else – and that is not far from the truth. While more time-demanding hobbies are out of the question, he still manages to squeeze in other activities.

Michael’s week starts on Monday at 9 a.m. with a microbiology class. This is where Michael and other students learn primarily about bacteria and their impact on the human body. Microbiology is followed by Czech.

“My father is from Slovakia and I have a decent understanding of Slovak,” says Michael. “Thanks to this, I can skip most of the Czech classes, as they are still going through relatively basic issues. Czech is really difficult for many students, especially those who have to learn a new alphabet as well as a new language, even though the teacher does a great job of explaining everything.”

The same afternoon, he attends a lecture and practicals that introduce the students to clinical practice. When he gets home around 6 p.m., study time is still far from over. “When there is a physiology seminar the next day, I have to study for that on Monday night, as we write a test in the class every time. But when there is no seminar every other Tuesday, I go to the gym,” Michael admits.

Struggles with biochemistry
On Tuesday morning, Michael has to bite the bullet and go to his biochemistry class, his least favourite. As the general medicine programme in English is, apart from the language, analogous to the Czech programme, it requires the same previous level of knowledge from foreign students, which can sometimes be a real problem.

“The level of chemistry taught at secondary schools in the US is much lower, so this is still a struggle for me. Fortunately, I have so far managed to convince the teachers that I’m not the worst in the class,” says Michael with a laugh.

Lectures and practicals fill the rest of Michael’s Tuesday until 7 p.m., with breaks just long enough to get a quick snack. While Michael actually has longer breaks in his official schedule, he spends them studying for the following lesson. Such continuous study makes it possible for him to pass all his exams early and have a longer break between semesters.

“During the last exam period, I had a free month and I used it for an internship that I arranged at a paediatric cardiac surgery department in Bratislava,” he says. He goes on to add, “It was a great experience, but I first had to learn a lot of things on my own from books.”

During his internship, he had the opportunity to work as a surgical assistant during surgeries on children, whose hearts are the size of a table-tennis ball. Paediatric cardiac surgery is among the most difficult medical specializations and most second-year students do not have the good luck and opportunity to assist during such operations.

An extra class
Michael’s Wednesday starts just like his Tuesday – with biochemistry, except this time it is practicals. “It’s as if you’ve just learned to walk and they put you on the track against Usain Bolt,” Michael says.

“Biochemistry is the subject that I study the hardest for.” One thing above all shows how serious he is about medicine – something that most other students would cringe from. Michael enrolled in a class designed for students who failed their physiology exam during the previous semesters. Michael passed the exam, but wants to extend his knowledge in what is one of the key subjects of his studies so far.

On Wednesdays, he finishes around four, so he usually finds time to go out for a beer with his friends, something that he has no time for any other day of the week. He is very fond of Czech cuisine and even prefers it to American cuisine – and he is a big fan of svíčková.

Changing the bedsheets
Thursdays are a change from the usual routine of lectures and practicals: from early morning, Michael attends hospital training. “They teach us how to change the bedsheets with patients lying in the bed or how to change the patient’s diapers,” he says. “Up till now, we have been practising at the university, but now we’ll go to St. Anne’s University Hospital and work with real patients.”

In his opinion, physiology practicals represent the most important subject of this semester, where students learn how to handle individual medical instruments. Although there are nearly two hundred foreign students in Michael’s year, usually only about ten of them are present at the lectures.

“Personally, I think this is a bit unfair to the lecturers and I don’t understand why my classmates do it,” he complains. “They are generally nice people and this just serves to make us look bad to the teachers.”

Friday morning is regularly devoted to biochemical training, followed by a physiology seminar on every other Friday. Then it is finally free time for Michael. He often goes to Bratislava to see his girlfriend or she visits him in Brno.

He rents an apartment at Mendlovo náměstí with a flatmate and their favourite pastime is to compete in cooking. “Occasionally, we both start cooking to see whose dish will taste better,” he laughs.

Michael got to Masaryk University by complete chance. In the summer of 2015, he was about to finish the second year of his studies at a community college in his home state of California. However, when he learned that his father had suffered a heart attack and was in hospital awaiting a difficult operation, he jumped on a plane to Bratislava.

“When my father got well, I stayed in Slovakia and later went to see an old friend of mine, who was studying medicine in Brno. Before the visit, I had no idea that Brno even existed,” he explains. “But when I saw the level of education you can get at the Faculty of Medicine here, I decided that this is where I wanted to study.”

Masaryk university