Winter 1995 (3.4)
Azerbaijan Medical University
by Dr. Ahliman Amiraslanov
Azerbaijan Medical University (named after Nariman Narimanov) provides the only institutional training of high quality physicians and pharmacists available in the Republic. Founded in 1930, it grew out of the Department of Medicine of Baku State University which was founded in 1919. We have six departments and more than 1,200 professors and lecturers.
Contrary to what might be expected during this difficult economic period, there is a great interest among young people to train in the medical field. More than 8,500 students are enrolled including 400 foreign students which come from 20 countries. It confers both Candidate of Science (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Science (Postdoctorate-professorship) degrees. Women comprise 60-65 percent of the graduates of the Medical University. Most doctors at hospitals are women. One reason is that salaries are so low in medicine.
Under the Soviet System
These days everybody talks about the defects and deficiencies of the Soviet Period. But Soviet medicine had a number of advantages over what we have now. There was free treatment. Emphasis was on preventative and early detection. There were almost no infectious diseases like we're experiencing today such as tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, malaria, hepatitis, cholera, etc. Simply the medical education system was better as was education in other fields. With all these changes and war, some of our most highly qualified faculty members have left. It was a great loss to us. I'm not praising the Soviet System. I'm just saying that we should not make blanket statements that everything from that period was bad.
Nowadays educational and medical institutions have been given their independence. It used to be that instructions were sent from Moscow and had to be followed by the Rector. Even though it might have been obvious to him that the instructions were ill-founded or unnecessary, he had no choice but to carry them out. For example, Moscow used to tell us how many students had to be admitted to the various departments even when we knew that the Republic didn't need so many specialists in a specific field. Or there were instructions about the percentage of students who had to be admitted from various social levels. A certain percentage had to come from workers' families such as collective farmers' families, and a certain percentage had to come from the intelligentsia.
Even when the University had its own budget, the administration of the university couldn't use it independently. It was impossible, for example, to increase the salary of lecturers through the budget of the university. Nor could we plan our own curriculum. We were forced to offer only those courses that were approved in Moscow.
In the past, even foreign students did not pay tuition. Nowadays, we charge them and this provides minimal help for our own needs. We have recently signed a contract with Bilkent University in Ankara. With their assistance and direction, we hope to gain access to the world system of medicine.
We are initiating serious reforms in medical education. Three or four years ago, we set up a Reform Committee which includes some of our most talented and respected professors and experts. We have mostly focused on post-diploma training of specialists.
Students enter our institution upon graduating from high school and after six years of study, they receive their diplomas and continue practical experience (called "internatura") for one year. We have reached the decision that this practicum is too short and inadequate for preparatory practice. It should be 4-5 years as it is in many other countries. The Reforms Committee will be dealing with such issues.
Plans for English Curriculum
Our instruction at the Medical University is on two language tracks, Russian and Azerbaijani. We'd like to establish a third track-English where all the courses would be taught in English. It's impossible for us now as we don't have English-speaking lecturers. If we could offer English instruction, then we could attract foreign students who would help strengthen our university budget. At present Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan send us their students.
In regard to curriculum, we're planning to initiate changes by reducing the hours of social disciplines and increasing the hours for medical disciplines. We no longer have any need to teach about Lenin, Marx and Communism, and we can use those precious hours to advance our student's knowledge of medicine.
We're planning to make the English language mandatory for all students and part of the final examination. Some of our graduates wish to study and work abroad. And we need our professors and instructors to have access to the latest research. English is their passport. Besides, we are quite involved in research at the University Central Research Laboratory. In the past, we did a great number of studies on problems that were minor and insignificant. But now we'd like to focus on global research problems. For example, some will be related to cancer while others focus on the harmful effects of pollution on the human organism.
These days are difficult for us. When it comes to medical equipment, Azerbaijan is in about the same neglected situation as other Republics of the former Soviet Union. We have some equipment but it is not modern. We do diagnostics, ultrasound, endoscopy, and radiotherapy but the equipment is not at the same level as that used in Europe or the USA.
We need all sorts of equipment: ultra-sound, endoscopes, X-rays, nuclear magnetic resonance, etc. We even need to replace the worn out furniture in classrooms and departments. We need to find ways for our students and specialists to study abroad in order to improve the quality of our instruction. This is crucial for our development.
Despite these economic restraints, we continue training doctors and pharmacists with the existing material and technical availability. Our university has good traditions and is respected in our training of specialists not only in Azerbaijan but in various countries of the Near East and Latin America.
But if I could have my greatest wish, I'd like to see our university at the level of some of the most famous universities of the world. We have great potential here with highly qualified specialists and well-known professors. Such a dream is not an impossibility.
Dr. Ahliman Amiraslanov is Rector of Azerbaijan Medical University. Tel: 95-35-66; Fax: 95-38-70.
From Azerbaijan International (3.4) Winter 1995.
© Azerbaijan International 1995. All rights reserved.