Why people apply to medical schools in Eastern Europe (Poland and Ukraine)

Karolina Harasimowicz


Some countries, such as the UK and the USA, hold a long-standing reputation for attracting large numbers of international students. However, for a country such as the United States, the number of international students has declined, especially during the Trump era, for a variety of reasons, including increased hostility towards foreigners. The number of international students has declined in the UK too, with the primary reason being the high cost of tuition fees. However, the international students' increased market is slowly rising in attracting international students from Western countries. More and more international students are choosing to study in Poland and Ukraine (Głowacki et al., 2018) due to its high-quality educational institutions, low tuition fees and low living costs.

The education system in Poland

The education system in Poland can be traced back to the Middle Ages, with Jagiellonian University founded in the 14th century. Various other respected universities in Poland, such as Warsaw University, ranked highly among international universities. The number of higher educational institutions in Poland has quadrupled over the past ten years, which has also increased the number of international students, and medical schools in particular are attracting a large number. Polish higher education institutions participate in international student exchanges (Restaino et al., 2020), which has increased Poland's international students’ education market in Europe. Many international students who are unable to get to a medical programme in their country, for example, students from Western Europe, choose instead to study medical programmes in Poland for the following reasons.

The education system in Ukraine      

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, medical education in Ukraine in English is an essential part of its national education. In Ukraine, medical faculties were established at Kharkiv University in 1805 (Ognev et al., 2018). By the middle of the twentieth century, most higher learning institutions had established medical training of nurses and medical assistants. The education system for higher education in medicine in Ukraine was established under the Ministry of Health during the soviet regime. It is considered to be one of the best and attracts many international students each year. The study duration is six years in a state-owned national university (Killingbeck, 2013). Medical education in Ukraine and Poland meets European standards of education, and the increased number of international medical students in both mentioned above countries  has been a result of the following reasons.

Quality Education

The medical education provided in Poland and Ukraine is of a high quality, and in Ukraine, most universities have a partnership with American, Canadian and European universities (Killingbeck, 2013) with students having the opportunity to meet and interact with distinguished professors from all over the world.

Medical students in higher learning institutions in the east of Europe are in contact with patients at an early stage of their studies. They have more hands-on practice in disciplines such as anatomy and pathology. Students work on human cadavers more regularly than those students in Western Europe. Also, students studying medicine learn the basics of other medical courses. For example, dentistry students learn some programmes taught to medical students and vice versa.

Most universities provide preparatory courses. For example, in Ukraine, international students study local languages. Although the courses are taught in English, local languages are essential during the students’ clinical years, for example, during medical interviews.

Dentists, doctors and pharmacists with degrees from accredited universities in Eastern Europe are allowed to practise anywhere within the European Union (Głowacki et al., 2018). Medical students in their final year are permitted to do rotations in hospitals around Europe; frequently in the country they hope to later work in. Students with medical education from Ukraine higher learning institutions can apply for international licensing exams worldwide. Student exchange programmes allow students to transfer to any university and continue their education in other countries.

The traditional approach for medical students in the Eastern European higher learning institutions increases the quality of education. In most Ukraine and Poland universities, it is not enough for them to pass their exams and complete residencies. Students are also required to learn exemplary medical professionalism and etiquette; for example, adhering to a specific dress code during their exams (Killingbeck, 2013). Ukraine and Poland universities offer their medical courses in English for international students, making their courses compatible with American and British programmes, and students can transfer to the UK or USA for their residencies. Also, there is a solid student-university relationship – Poland gives students the flexibility and freedom in shaping their curriculum, such as in the choice of specialisation.

Low Tuition Fees

Money is one of the main reasons students in Western Europe choose to attend medical schools in Eastern Europe. Tuition fees are not as expensive as in Western Europe (Sin et al., 2019), which has led many international students, especially from Western Europe, to enrol in Eastern European medical universities. The high number of affordable medical-related degrees has seen many international students register for medical studies in Ukraine and Poland. In Ukraine, higher education institution fees are much lower than in European universities (Killingbeck, 2013), and the Ukraine system, where international students are allowed to pay their tuition fees on arrival, has increased the possibility of more international medical students (Zvarych et al., 2019).

While other medical students in Western Europe start their programmes by spending a lot of money, the tuition fees for the eastern euro universities are considerably low (Killingbeck, 2013). Students can attend their medical courses for as little as $10,000 a year. In Poland, the tuition fees at Warsaw Medical Academy are $13,100, while Jagiellonian University Medical College is $16,000 as of May 2021’, and students from Western Europe can receive scholarships or student loans when enrolling in Eastern European medical universities (Głowacki et al., 2018). The student loan is small, which takes less time to pay after graduation; therefore, students in Eastern Europe can start their future life earlier – marry, buy a house or car, and have children earlier than their counterparts in Western Europe (Killingbeck, 2013).

The Low Cost of Living

Ukraine provides a European standard of living at a low price, especially in the central and eastern parts, and  the cost of living in Poland is more affordable than living in Western and Northern Europe (Sin et al., 2019); for example, a monthly bus ticket for students at Polish Universities is approximately nine euros. Most universities in Poland provide international students with accommodation. However, the low cost of university housing (for example, a shared room is approximately 80 euros per month), has led to an increased demand for such accommodation (Pudova et al., 2019).

It is safe to study in Poland and Ukraine. For example, despite some cultural clichés in Poland, such as not smiling unless necessary, the people are kind and show sympathy. The residents are homogenous, but its multicultural traditions and an increased number of foreigners in Poland make international students feel at home (Oleksy and Wasser, 2018). Poland’s culture is well recognised in the world, which is why it attracts a pool of international students. It provides quality entertainment, with large festivals and concerts. Students access infrastructures in Poland and Ukraine at a relatively low cost. In Poland, students access the city bicycle networks and public transport at a low price, and the cost of living per year for students ranges between $2000 and $3000 (Oleksy and Wasser, 2018).

Less Competitive Admission

Increased competition and limited places for medical school admissions to Western European medical universities have made the process of application extremely competitive, and it is difficult for students to be accepted, no matter how intelligent or dedicated they are (Butrym, 2020). This has led to an increased number of students enrolling in the medical programmes in Eastern European universities. In Ukraine and Poland, international students do not need to pass any registration exams, as is the case for Western European universities (Oleksy and Wasser, 2018), and the chance of students being rejected is low because the number of students applying for these programmes is low.

Although Eastern European universities place an emphasis on the admission of high-quality students to medical programmes (Sin et al., 2019). Most universities admit students directly from high school and without a baccalaureate degree, through vetting the applicant for other experience. A student with a high (secondary) school certificate is eligible to apply for a medical programme at any Eastern European medical university (Alieksieiev et al., 2019). Also, admission may be based on students who pass rigorous exams in the sciences, unlike in the UK, where a letter of recommendation of an individual experience that shows their commitment to medicine is required. This helps to remove students who are ill-prepared for academic rigour and those who cannot interact with patients in a caring manner (Zvarych et al., 2019). A medical exam ensures that students are mentally and physically healthy. Also, students who choose medical programmes with less name recognised Universities such as Olsztyn, Zielona Góra are selected according to their interaction with patients early in their training.


In conclusion, an increased number of international students has seen an increased number of students wishing to study medical programmes in Europe. However, the high cost of living and strong competition in Western Europe has seen more students from Western Europe enrolling for medical programmes in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine and Poland. The increased number of international students from Western to Eastern Europe is because of a low cost of living, low tuition fees, high-quality education and less competition for admission. The universities in Ukraine and Poland offer a European standard of living at a low price, and it is safe to study in Poland and Ukraine. Medical students in Eastern Europe receive more hands-on training compared to their counterparts in Western Europe, and they are not required to sit an entrance exam or provide recommendations in Ukraine. For all these reasons, a large number of international students are attracted to Poland and Ukraine.                                                                                                    


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Karolina Harasimowicz LL.D., LL.,M, BsC Hons

GdL 3/2022