How was your experience at ETH Zurich

ETH medical bachelor's degree has proven itself

Three years ago, ETH Zurich launched a new type of medical curriculum in pilot operation. The experiences of lecturers and students are consistently positive. The university is now introducing the bachelor's degree in human medicine on a regular basis from 2021, thus concluding the development phase.

Since autumn 2017, ETH Zurich has been offering 100 study places in human medicine every year. The bachelor's degree - made possible by the federal special program Human Medicine - was completely redesigned in close cooperation with university and clinical partners and initially launched as a pilot project for the five cohorts from 2017 to 2021. The first medical students completed their bachelor's degree this summer.

Now it is clear that almost all of the newly graduated bachelor's degrees are continuing their medical training as expected at one of the three partner universities in Lugano, Basel and Zurich. "In a short time, ETH Zurich has established itself as a competent partner in national and international medical training," says Rector Sarah Springman, who is responsible for teaching at ETH.

The university is now taking this into account: It is ending the pilot project more than a year earlier than planned and will continue the course in regular operation from January 2021. “It is now certain that the ETH will henceforth make a concrete contribution to remedying the shortage of doctors in Switzerland,” says Springman happily.

A plus in science and technology

In fact, the vast majority of Bachelor's graduates, who are also fundamentally eligible for a Master's degree at ETH, choose the path of a doctor. A look at the first cohort shows: Of the hundred students who started in 2017, 87 are currently still there. 77 of them have already completed their bachelor's degrees - that is, in the minimum period of study. Only two stay at ETH and change their subject. All other 75 graduates are doing their Masters in human medicine: 20 each in Zurich and Basel, and 35 at the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI) in Lugano.

On average, in the previous three years, around ten percent failed the basic examination at the first attempt. “Overall, based on our experience, we expect that around 85 to 90 percent of the new students will also complete their bachelor’s degree,” says ETH Professor Christian Wolfrum, who has been the director of the new course for three years.

What particularly pleases him: "The partner universities and other institutions are very interested in the ETH bachelors." Experience suggests that the novel curriculum works. "We train medical professionals with a special profile - doctors with specialist knowledge in natural sciences and technology who, thanks to their tools, can also implement developments in the field of digital medicine in clinical practice," he says.

Highly motivated "test pilots"

The students of the first cohort assumed the role of “test pilots”. “Our pioneers have done well, even if it was hectic at times,” says Professor Jörg Goldhahn, project manager for the human medicine bachelor's degree. Not only he was amazed by the great interest shown by medical students. "Lecturers from other universities were also enthusiastic about how analytical and committed the ETH Bachelor's students were in their classes," says Goldhahn.

Within ETH, too, the medical students are considered highly motivated. During the Corona crisis, they proved several times that their commitment sometimes goes beyond the pure curriculum with two initiatives to support the health care system and with aid missions in hospitals. They already have a good reputation with the partner institutions.

Lessons at eye level

The commitment is certainly also due to the high level of interactivity that characterizes the lessons. Wolfrum and Goldhahn tried to involve the students right from the start. The experience: if the students notice that constructive criticism is making a difference, then they actively participate, which in turn increases the quality of the teaching.

One of the graduates is Rahel Schmidt. «We had various opportunities to get involved and were taken seriously - that was great. This enabled us to effectively shape the course, ”she reports. The course management, in turn, used the constant flow of feedback to continuously adapt the curriculum. If things weren't going well with lecturers or if the teaching formats didn't fit, changes were made quickly. "The most important corrections have already been made today," says Goldhahn.

Help shape the medicine of tomorrow

Together with their teams, Wolfrum and Goldhahn played a key role in setting up the course. The result is a curriculum which, in addition to medicine, natural sciences and technology, also gives great importance to aspects such as the ability to work in a team, communication, collaboration with other care professions and critical thinking.

"In a short time, ETH Zurich has established itself as a competent partner in national and international medical training." Sarah Springman, Rector of ETH Zurich

Within a very short time, word of the special course got around, even among prospective students. You must indicate your preferences when registering for medical studies; this shows that the proportion of those interested in choosing ETH for the first time has increased significantly in the third year.

And how is the curriculum received by the students? “The ETH offers a promising medical course in which digital technologies such as machine learning also play an important role. I especially liked it when we could learn from doctors directly at the patient's bed, ”says Yi Zheng, one of the bachelor's pioneers. So he would have liked more direct patient contact. "But my expectations have been met."

Rahel Schmidt was also impressed by the clinical internships and patient cases. “At ETH, you learn in manageable groups. There is little frontal teaching in the classic sense. And there is a good error culture - you can sometimes make a completely wrong diagnosis, ”she laughs. Both Zheng and Schmidt would recommend the ETH course to others. «Warmly for those who want an additional focus on science and technology. But less so for those who don't like mathematics, physics or programming at all, ”summarizes Schmidt.

Zheng is now doing his master's degree at the University of Zurich. Schmidt's preference was Lugano. “As an enthusiastic test pilot, I consciously chose the USI,” she says. A new master’s program in human medicine is starting there this semester, and the ETH played a key role in establishing it. In order to make the start at USI as easy as possible, ETH students can already learn Italian during their bachelor's degree. You can also take the master’s examination in German.

Further strengthen clinical teaching

Wolfrum and Goldhahn see the most important goal for the future in strengthening clinical teaching: "Precisely because the ETH itself does not have any hospitals, we must increasingly involve clinical partners in the bachelor's program and further improve the quality of the courses."

In the long term, the ETH wants to get involved in further medical training within the framework of the specialist title. For this purpose, the MedLAB has already been set up, where one or two doctors per year at the ETH can carry out a research project. Preparations for an MAS in Clinical Research are currently underway in the medical advanced training program.

“We would be delighted if some of our graduates would come back to ETH at some point to do clinical research with us - whether in specialist training or later as practicing doctors,” says ETH Rector Springman.