Mel Lean is currently in her first year at Szent István University in Budapest, studying veterinary medicine as a mature student. Here, she describes how she ended up pursuing a veterinary degree in Hungary, and what getting there involved
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THERE is no denying that my path to studying veterinary medicine has been anything but straightforward! Previous employment with the BVA, based at the headquarters in Mansfield Street, London, gave me firsthand exposure to the veterin-ary profession, policy development and interaction with veterinary students at UK universities. It was during this period (2000 to 2003) that I realised that veterinary medicine was my ultimate goal; however, having not undertaken A-levels at school, I felt that that door was firmly closed and embarked on alternative degrees. Having gained a first-class honours degree in equine sports science from Hartpury College in 2007, I went on to do a Masters degree in equine science at Aberystwyth University in Wales. Despite achieving both, and despite a great sense of accomplishment, my yearning to try for veterinary medicine had not disappeared.⇓
During my undergraduate degree vacations, and for 18 months afterwards, I worked at a specialist equine practice, Rossdales Equine Hospital in Newmarket. There I was fortunate enough to gain invaluable clinical experience and a greater understanding of equine veterinary procedures, medicine and what is expected in the role of being a vet. This fantastic experience fuelled my passion for all things equine and veterinary, and was the reason I undertook the Masters. It was during my placement for my postgraduate dissertation, which involved carrying out original scientific research, that I decided that I had to pursue veterinary medicine in earnest.
Rather than stay in the UK I decided to strike farther afield and took up a dissertation placement at the Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Kentucky, USA, where I worked under Dr David Horohov in his immunology research laboratory assessing the humoral immune response to equine influenza vaccines in aged horses. My time in Lexington was utterly inspiring, from the support and encouragement provided by the Gluck as a whole, but also because they didn't seem to see that my age should be a problem in starting a veterinary degree. Dr Horohov and his team, including veterinary surgeon friends working at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, pushed me to apply to veterinary schools on my return to the UK, and so the real story begins.⇓
Sadly, the cost of studying for a second degree in veterinary medicine in the UK is prohibitive for the vast majority, despite some funding being available from private bursaries and scholarships. In light of the high fees in the UK I decided to apply to Budapest vet school in Hungary, which runs a course in English, on the basis of recommendations and because of the lower cost.
The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Szent István University is one of the oldest veterinary schools in world, and is well recognised in Europe, awarding the DVM qualification at the end of a five-and-a-half-year study period. The veterinary faculty was accredited by the European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education in 1995.
For overseas applicants, communication is carried out directly with the university and not via a UCAS-type body as in the UK. The English Language Programme secretariat team is fast and efficient, and able to answer any queries. I did consider other European vet schools, but Budapest was the only university to reply to my initial e-mails, hence my single application to study there. The application process was straightforward, but involved lots of paperwork, and required supporting references, transcripts of previous degrees and certificates of qualification. I received an answer to my application within two weeks of submission, and fortunately it was good news! I was accepted on to the programme as a transfer student based on previous qualifications and experience, and hence was not required to sit the entrance exam or use the designated student representative from respective countries of residence, as some students had to.⇓
Having successfully gained a place, I decided to visit the vet school before accepting it. I used the time to view not only the university facilities, but the city too. Budapest is a charming, cultural and exciting city and I was struck by what an adventure living in a European capital would be.
The UK funding opportunities for the veterinary degree, which I had previously extensively researched, and in some cases had begun the application process for, were no longer applicable as I would be studying abroad. Thus, funding is entirely dependent upon provision of individual financial support. The university fees in total equate to £45,000 for the five-and-a-half-years, not including living expenses. These are payable per semester (in Sterling) by bank transfer, and the process is quick and efficient.
Living and studying abroad
The English language programme attracts students from all nationalities, a large proportion of whom are Irish and Norwegian. The course is also taught in Hungarian and German.
Due to the popularity of veterinary medicine, medicine and dentistry in Budapest, student accommodation can be found in abundance, although it varies enormously in quality, price and location. There are a number of agencies that handle student accommodation, but word of mouth from students in higher years is also a great way to find somewhere to live. Halls of residence are limited to only Hungarian students in Budapest, and even then are in short supply.
The academic year starts considerably earlier here than at the UK vet schools, with classes beginning in the first week of September. A foreign student association can help new students orientate themselves in the city and give advice on such things as mobile phone contracts and internet providers, but, in reality, much like any other university, a lot of essential tips can be sought from students in higher years over a beer in the bar.
Overall, the logistics of studying abroad can be challenging, but with some prior organisation the process can be less stressful. I decided to drive to Hungary from the UK, which was not only a fabulous road trip through Europe (taking in Belgium, Germany and Austria), but also a cheap alternative to shipping goods, especially heavy veterinary textbooks.
Anyway, I got here, and am now nine weeks into my first term. In an article to be published in Vet Record Careers next week, I will discuss what it's like being an English-speaking veterinary student in Budapest and how I am getting on.
▪More information about Budapest's veterinary faculty can be found at www.univet.hu/index.php?lang=en
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