Illustration photo shows student doctors. 125 students are enrolled in the first bachelors in medicine at the University of Luxembourg
Can the University of Luxembourg’s new medicine bachelor's programme help avert the looming GP shortage? Director of medical education Professor Gilbert Massard explains.
Luxembourg’s first bachelor’s in medicine launched in September 2020 with 125 students, a modest start when compared to the 1,500-strong first year groups at some French universities. Only 25 will continue the undergraduate programme in the grand duchy and 52 at partner institutions in neighbouring countries (of which 34 are in France). “We are limited to 125 because we are a small university, have limited training capacity and […] it’s better to guarantee a high-quality teaching to less than just bring people through to get the paper at the end of the year,” course leader Professor Gilbert Massard told Delano.
The pint-sized programme evolved from a single first-year medicine programme which has been taught in Luxembourg since the 1960s and enabled students to continue their studies in a partner university in France or Belgium.
For a new programme, it is popular, attracting some 400 applicants, “but there were many applications from foreign countries who asked if they could do their education in English, I said unfortunately, this is not possible.”
French & German language requirement
One of the specificities of the course is that students must speak French and German to level C1, a condition imposed by French counterparts to prevent pilfering students from France. Professor Massard has nothing against the French. Though born in Luxembourg, he studied at the University of Strasbourg where he spent most of his career, developing and running a lung transplantation programme until 2019, among other things.
He expects some “shedding” from this first cohort of 125, in part because some students will also have applied to German universities, but also because of the demands of the course, which are not helped by the remote learning conditions. “On the other hand, we have some rotations where we meet in smaller groups, we offer them to contact us by email or phone so probably it is less catastrophic than I imagine myself,” the professor said.
Professor Gilbert Massard, pictured, spent most of his career at Université de Strasbourg, where he was appointed as professor of cardiothoracic surgery in 1996. In addition, he was the head of the department of thoracic surgery and board member at the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Strasbourg (HUS). Photo: University of Luxembourg
He believes the main attraction of the new programme for people living in Luxembourg is equity of access. Of the new cohort, 75% are Luxembourg residents. “There are a lot of rich people in Luxembourg but there are still some families who cannot afford to pay studies abroad even if, for instance, in France university registration is cheap, housing is a problem.” Border closures and quarantines as a result of the pandemic have also forced people to reassess their study priorities. Whatever their reasons for choosing Luxembourg, professor Massard says they will be rewarded with more individualised training thanks to the class sizes.
Pursuing a career in Luxembourg
The goal of the programme is to combat the looming doctor shortage. Data suggests that 20% of existing doctors will retire within the next five years, though Massard says many will work beyond retirement age. Currently, six out of ten health professionals active in Luxembourg are from abroad and though higher education ministry data shows there are currently 1,145 people from Luxembourg studying medicine, not enough qualifying doctors returning to pursue their careers in Luxembourg.
“Salaries are good but housing is expensive so this equals it out. I think to make it attractive we need to show them there are job opportunities. If you’re away from home 6-10 years, you forget what’s going on,” he said. If the bachelor is deemed a success, the University of Luxembourg will extend it to a master’s degree, which could help retain some of these home-grown doctors.
In parallel, the groundwork has been laid to set out three specialisations in Luxembourg in general practice, neurology and medical oncology starting in 2021. Prof Massard is optimistic that the programme will encourage young doctors to remain or return from abroad. What is less certain is which specialisation they will choose. “We have a crude imbalance between GPs and specialists. 30% of practicing doctors are GPs, whereas in France the ratio is 50-50. This is something we have to work on.”