How to make Erasmus work for Medical Science courses

How to make Erasmus work for Medical Science courses

All professionals working in the field of Medical and Health Sciences know that the need to educate future health practitioners to meet the new demands of the global society is prevalent. However, the internationalisation of health care programmes faces many challenges: national restrictions in health care regulations, language barriers, patient safety, national regulations on curricula and examinations etc. So how can we make internationalisation work for Medical and Health Science education?

Challenges of internationalisation

On an organisational level, receiving institutions struggle to find placements at hospitals and placements cannot be guaranteed in the same way as admissions to a theoretical university course. In addition, many elements of these educational fields are practice based and include patient contact. This means that there needs to be a willingness both from the clinics and the patients to speak another language apart from their own. Consequently, students enrolled in Medical and Health Sciences have greater difficulties in taking part in the Erasmus scheme.

A questionnaire asking for pros and cons in relation to Erasmus Studies and Erasmus Training was distributed among members of the EAIE Special Interest Group, Health Internationalisation, to explore how higher education institutions within health professions have solved some of the challenges related to mobility. Seventy-three respondents answered the questionnaire giving their best practices and stating the most difficult challenges related to students and staff exchanges within Erasmus.

The questionnaire looked at issues such as whether theoretical studies in English are being arranged for incoming students, if practical placements and theoretical studies were being mixed within the same exchange, if the minimum of a 13-week exchange period was suitable for the curriculum, how language barriers have been solved and how teacher/staff exchanges work in practice.

Different interpretations of Erasmus

Discussions on the results of the questionnaire took place during a session at the 2012 EAIE Conference, which brought to light the diversity amongst the respondents and the differences in interpretations of Erasmus Training. One of the most important outcomes of the questionnaire was that there are numerous ways to interpret the Erasmus scheme. Some higher education institutions are very flexible and are able to make the Erasmus programme suit their activities. However, some universities and National Agencies interpret the rules very strictly which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to internationalise within Erasmus. Additionally, the practices between Erasmus Learning Agreement (LA) and Erasmus Training Agreement (TA) were confusing and not clear to many respondents since LAs had widely been used in health education for clinical placements already before the TA was introduced.

Greater flexibility required

There is definitely a need for more flexibility in terms of exchange programmes: the length of Erasmus programmes is restrictive rather than helpful. This should be adjusted. Additionally, the Erasmus Training proved to some extent to be confusing. There is a need for better guidelines from the National Agencies, and the National Agencies themselves need to work in the same manner when they are interpreting the programme. It would be very helpful if the Erasmus programme guidelines could follow the structures of the institutions (up to a certain aspect and within the legal boundaries) instead of the other way around.

A solution from an institutional level to make Erasmus work could be to offer more theoretical studies for incoming students met by flexibility with shorter exchanges – both for students and staff. Maybe the exchange period could be split into two six-week periods to make up the required amount. However, the bottom line is that the courses still need to be recognised. Shorter periods would indeed open up new international opportunities for a large group of future European health professionals.

By Evelien Hack, Coordinator Internationalisation, Directorate Education (DOO), Leiden University Medical Center; Karin Frydenlund, Head of Department, Faculty of Medicine, Lund University;  and Johanna Tarvainen, Faculty of Social and Health Care, Lahti University of Applied Sciences.