Italian medical degree recognition abroad: How Pavia’s English M.D. graduates integrate globally? 

Pavia University “Harvey” course was the first to offer an English M.D. degree in Italy  in late 2009 and in 2015-16 the first wave of Harvey students have graduated and obtained the M.D. license. Now, as graduates enter the specialty training programs globally, the quality of their education and the competitiveness of their degree are being put to a test.

I have surveyed over 25 Harvey graduates to determine in which countries they work, whenever they had difficulties getting their degree recognized, which specialty field they got into and what do they generally think about the quality of the our M.D degree. As a bonus, many have written a word of advice to current and future medical students which I will share with you in this post.

But why only now? There are several steps after the graduation that have to be taken before starting working as a physician in Italy or abroad. Those include 3 months of post-grad clinical rotations, registration, obtaining and translating papers for foreign medical license and competing for the position in specialty training programs.

Italian English M.D. Degree recognition abroad

One of the ‘real world’ tests of the English medical course was the level of integration of its graduates in hospitals and clinics globally. The recognition of the new English degree was one of the major concerns as we began our studies, yet those worries have completely dissipated. Out of the surveyed graduates, 36% began their specialization outside of Italy while the rest remained in the country. The top destination-countries are Switzerland (mainly Italian and French speaking parts), UK, Germany and USA. All of them have reported having no problems in obtaining the recognition of their English MD degree in those countries.

That is not very surprising for EU countries, because the European law mandates that public University degrees of member states should be mutually recognized, no matter if the graduate holds a European citizenship or not. That means that there were no additional medical knowledge tests on the way to obtaining an MD license in an EU member state and the primary demand was to demonstrate a sufficient knowledge of the local language (usually B2-C1 levels or equivalent).

Things might have worked differently for non European countries such as USA, especially because of the fact that Californian accreditation is required in several US states and none of the English medschools in Italy holds this accreditation at the moment. This turned out to be not as important factor as previously thought. A colleague that went to USA told me that for the recognition they didn’t care if the degree was in English or Italian and that they were treated as any other international graduate. So after sitting the USMLE exam she could compete for the residency posts like everybody else.

How good were the medical studies in Pavia?

There is no single parameter that could answer that question. Some tend to refer to global university ranking lists for that but those don’t really reflect things like the satisfaction of the students or which specialty fields graduates are able to get into when medschool ends.

What graduates think of the Harvey medschool in Pavia? The atmosphere of the course was very unique, both because of it’s international take but also because the people  who ‘had the courage’ to study medicine in English in Italy were somewhat special and stood out from the mass. The same, if not more, could be said about our professors as well. This feeling was also reflected in the large number of students who participated in student exchanges in a medical schools abroad and took initiatives by volunteering in medical support in developing countries.

When asking the graduates in our survey about their satisfaction with our course, more than 88% of the participants though that it was a good idea to study in English in Pavia and 89% would recommend to others to study medicine there as well. Those are very good results, especially when considering the fact that we were the first graduates, which means that lots of bumps had to be dealt with along the way because the medical course was basically forming and developing with us.

Those positive opinions were also reflected in the verbal feedback graduates gave about the course, saying that studying in English was “tremendously helpful when you go abroad and when you need to consult international guidelines or papers” and talking about “International environment” and praising professors for being “oriented toward international research and always updated in their field of work”. Others were glad to have “very good students/professor ratio, good facilities for the students” and “a lot of opportunities to do extra curricula activities”.

What specialty fields did we get into and where? This is the last ‘proof of the pudding’, namely how well our graduates performed against the competition when it came to getting into tough specialty fields. Harvey graduates got into a wide range of competitive specialty fields, including Orthopedic surgery, Ophthalmology, Gynecology, Pediatrics, Cardiology, General and Thoracic Surgery just to name a few. The list of the hospitals was also very impressive, with Milan, London and Lugano (Switzerland) being conquered by more than one Harvey graduate each.

Overall I think Harvey course has been a great success in forming quality physicians, ready to compete for top residency programs both in Italy and abroad. Nevertheless no medical course is perfect, which is also true for Harvey. The most central point for improvement in our course being a more structured acquisition of hands-on clinical skills (eg. blood taking, etc.), which one must say was already much better than other Italian medical schools and included dedicated courses for ECG reading and hear murmurs recognition but could be improved further.

Bonus advice to current and future medical students in Italy from Harvey graduates

One could say that Harvey graduates have made a long way. When I began, I remember someone saying that in order to succeed in a medical school, one needs to start studying as hard as he can and then slowly and gradually increase the tempo. Unfortunately that was true pretty much for most of the medical years, but the bright side is that you also get much better and efficient in studying after those years and learn not only a lot of fascinating things about the human body and medicine but also about yourself and your personal abilities.

A common theme of most of the tips that I got for you from our graduates was preparation. To get the maximum of your medical studies and the following carrier “search for Exchange programmes [ERASMUS] or observership periods abroad” and while studying is important, “take the chance to travel during and after the degree, choose a thesis in collaboration with foreign Universities” when possible. Overall people say that after graduation “Life is great! Good salary and great opportunities” but to get the most out it “plan your future few years in advance to get all your papers sorted when you’re ready to move.” The last advice, especially for those who plan to apply to UK (but not only) is to remember that “you will start [working] one year after graduation. Try to get some more experience in the meanwhile and study UK guidelines well.”

I’ll be glad to hear your comments on this in our Facebook group.