A group of Finnish medical students studying medicine at Vilnius University created a special organisation for Finnish medical students in Lithuania. The current members of the board of the organisation are Nina Luomakoski (chairperson), Jenni Tynkkynen (vice-chairperson), Silja Valkama (secretary), Ida Koivisto (representative for events), and Reetta Pakkanen (fund manager).
They have all received their high school diplomas in Finland and some of them earned other degrees, for example in nursing and midwifery, before their decision to study medicine in Lithuania. “We created the Association of Finnish Medical Students in Vilnius in 2018 because of the increasing number of Finnish medical students beginning their studies at VU. It is a popular tradition at Finnish universities that every faculty has its own association run by students,” Ida stated. According to her, the association at Vilnius University creates a great link between other unions and associations in Finland as well as in other Baltic countries.
Many Finnish students choose to study medicine abroad because in order to get a spot in Finland you need to take a couple of years to study/prepare for the entrance examination, which includes questions about physics, chemistry and biology. “Some of our students applied to Finland a couple of times, and some of our students came to Vilnius directly after finishing high school. All in all, the most common reason to study abroad is the ability to get in without an entrance examination and not to waste many years trying to get a spot in Finland,” Silja explained. In her opinion, most Finnish students want to move on to working life quickly and graduate as soon as possible.
For Finnish students, the most common countries to go and study medicine in are the Baltic countries, Sweden, Ukraine, and Romania. At the moment, there are about 1,120 Finnish students studying medicine abroad. Silja and Ida (now 4th year students), along with their two fellow students, were the first Finnish people to come and study medicine in Vilnius. They began studying in the autumn of 2016. At that time, there was not much information for Finnish people about the possibility to study in Vilnius, so they decided to start answering any questions possible new students might have and writing about their experience at VU. There is now a growing number of new Finnish students applying and the Finnish students are very happy about that.
From left to right: Nina Luomakoski, Silja Valkama, Ida Koivisto, Jenni Tynkkynen and Reetta Pakkanen, 2020.
Silja and Ida applied to Vilnius, Riga and Tartu but received an acceptance letter from Vilnius first. They think that Vilnius University is undoubtedly very traditional and appreciated and that Vilnius is a very compact and beautiful city. At the time when Nina (2nd year student) and freshmen students Jenny and Reetta applied, the programme in Vilnius was getting better known in Finland, there was more information available, and they had heard a lot of positive feedback about studying in Vilnius.
Do Finnish students really like the Faculty of Medicine in Vilnius? “We are really happy with the studies and most of the professors are really great and real experts of their field”, the Finnish students acknowledged. “When we started in 2016, we felt like the programme was still fairly new, but we have noticed so many positive changes over the years, for example allowing our students to take the whole 6th year to do their internship in Finland. And we love the addition of more practical skill development for the students in the lower years.”
Jenni and Nina stated that for Finnish students the development of practical skills is very important, as after the 4th year they are already able to work as junior doctors at a hospital, get a license to prescribe medications, etc. Before the 4th year, they can do paid internships in their chosen specialty. After the 5th year, the students are already allowed to work at an outpatient clinic as a doctor with the possibility to ask for consultation from senior doctors. “We highly encourage our students to take as many internships/summer jobs in Finland during the holiday period as possible to integrate into the Finnish system”, the members of the Association of Finnish Students explained.
Finland is geographically a big country and has 5.5 million inhabitants. There are five universities with different medical faculties in the country. However, the competition to get into any medical school is really tough, and many Finnish students apply more than twice before getting in.
The aim of the Association of Finnish Medical Students in Vilnius is to help new (and existing) students from Finland with practical issues related to studies at VU and to provide accurate information regarding internships and working and living issues in Lithuania. We are also a part of a bigger organisation of medical students in Finland, and our members are able to benefit from their services as well.
“Additionally, we arrange activities for our members. At least once per semester, senior students teach practical techniques to the others. These workshop evenings have themes, for instance, suturing, patient examination, manual BP measurement, etc., and the themes change every time,” Ida stated. According to her, companies and doctors from Finland also come to Vilnius and train medical students from time to time.
Many students in Finland want to study medicine abroad. In the opinion of the members of the Association of Finnish Students, Vilnius is not so well known to Finns as other Baltic universities in Tartu and Riga. “After we present our study programme, new students are able to get accurate information about their possibilities and easily get answers from those who are already studying”, Nina said.
The members of Association of Finnish Students constantly answer questions about studies and provide information related to moving to Vilnius, finding accommodation, and so on. They visit different high schools in Finland to represent Vilnius University and organise events and training sessions for students. The most relevant information for new future students can easily be found on their website and Instagram profile.
For future medical students from Finland, it is also important to know about Lithuanian culture and lifestyle, which is not too different from Scandinavian. “Of course there are some big differences that you just have to get used to, but overall settling in was pretty easy. We have this motto, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’,” Ida said with a smile. Together with Lithuanian students, she and her Finnish friends like to spend their spare time doing sports in Vilnius gyms, seeing friends, watching movies, and enjoying student life in general at the very centre of Europe.
What happens after graduation from Vilnius University? Most of the Finnish students go back to Finland. In that country there are 50 medical specialties to choose from, so hopefully everyone will find their own place. “Although most of us will continue our education and career in Finland, we will always be proud to call Vilnius University our alma mater, and we wish to carry its name with pride throughout our career as medical doctors”, the members of the association said.