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An insider’s look at one of Italy’s most research-oriented medicine programmes

by Maread Carter

In my previous post, I told you all about your schedule during your first year at Humanitas University. In this post, I’ll fill you in on the specific material you’ll study, and who your classmates will be.

What classes will I be taking?

Here is a summary of the classes you’ll take in your first year at Humanitas. This is directly from the school’s academic planner:

First year classes at Humanitas University med school

The course layout is different from any university class I’ve taken in the past, in that each course encompasses multiple subjects, with different professors for each. Those “MODULES” on the right are actually different classes which, together, make up the course. 

In the first semester, you study physics and chemistry as part of Principles of Living Matter. The material was entirely review for me. I retook it because I, personally, decided not to apply for credit recognition. (Recognition of previous academic work could be the topic of a whole post on its own.) 

The final exam for this course is in February and it consists of one exam with two parts. All the questions are written in long answer format, in which you have to show your work and draw out all the chemical structures and mechanisms. Many of my classmates actually found this exam to be much harder than expected, simply because they neglected to study throughout the semester. (Oops!). But if you keep calm, and keep up with lectures, it’s sure to go smoothly for you. 

The second course listed, Building Bodies, is certainly the most challenging of the first semester. It consists of histology, embryology, and organogenesis/organ systems. Building Bodies was everyone’s favourite course material in the first semester, because it’s your first toe-dip into learning real medicine. 

It’s also overwhelming! 

You learn about the embryo and how body systems develop (digestive, respiratory, nervous, skeletal… all of them); you learn about the cellular composition of different organs; and you learn about organ anatomy in our chest and abdomen. This stuff is all crucial to understand for your future anatomy and physiology classes, and it’s really interesting! 

The final exam for Building Bodies is in February. It is a multiple choice exam with three parts. This too, was a very challenging exam due to the material covered in class. (Embryology is particularly tough.)

The Cell: Molecules and Processes contains the broadest subject area of all the classes, encompassing molecular biology, cytology, biochemistry, genetics, and applied biology. (Again, all with different professors! So strange.) The material for this course was also largely review for me, since it covers the basics of all of these topics, mostly as they relate to the medicine you’ll study in later years. 

You may also be familiar with the basics of these subjects from high school, and from studying for the admissions exam. However, you will go into much greater detail in this course. The professors are also all researchers, with some truly fascinating fields of expertise. I’ll tell you more about the professors, for this course and others, in a future post.

The midterm intermediate exam in February for The Cell was optional for our year. Not everyone opted to take it. I did, and I’m so relieved that I did, because it made studying for the final in June much easier. This format for the midterm may change in the future. If it is also optional for you, my advice is to take it!     

Finally, in your first semester, Being a Medical Doctor is a very small class, consisting of only a few lectures. It includes history of medicine, medical professionalism, and bioethics. This is a hugely important topic for future doctors! 

This is a model used to teach anatomy at Humanitas

In the second semester, the two annual classes (The Cell and Being a Medical Doctor) keep going. You will also begin taking Body Architecture, which is simply anatomy of the whole body (including neuroanatomy). 

Body Architecture is quite a lot of material. Of course, understanding anatomy is one of the most important (if not the most important) fundamentals of being a doctor. I’m very grateful that the lighter schedule gave me time to study on my own, because I’ve discovered that anatomy is not the easiest thing to learn in a classroom. 

There are no cadaver dissections at Humanitas. Of course, we have practicals, during which we are given the opportunity to study radiological images, interact with plastic or wood models, and perform physical exams on each other. It’s a lot, but manageable, and the professors are there to help you get through the mountain of things to learn. 

You’ll also rely on your classmates for everything, from figuring out how to count vertebrae to reminding you of the details you missed while you were snoozing in class. You get to be very familiar with your peers! Speaking of your peers…

Who will my fellow classmates be? 

Any description of Humanitas would be incomplete without a few words about the students.

In my class (entrance 2018), 150 students were accepted to the medical program for the first year. This was an increase of 30 students from the previous year, and I believe the plan is to increase that number again in the future (though not for the 2019 incoming class). 

Of those 150, 100 are students with Italian citizenship and 50 with non-Italian. Among the international students, some are EU, and some are non-EU. (I’m unsure exactly of the ratio.) 

Overwhelmingly, the demographics of the class feel very international. Even amongst the Italian students, most have either lived or studied abroad; some have dual citizenship. Of course, this makes sense. They chose to study medicine in English, as opposed to Italian. This either means they have a strong background in English, or they wish to work in English in the future. Out of the international students, the reasons they chose Humanitas vary. Some have family in Italy; others chose Humanitas because it has an excellent reputation and ranking as a research institute. 

The age group of the class is equally varied. Nearly all of the Italian students are straight out of high school — 18 to 19 years old — and some of the international students are the same age. The group, as a whole, is therefore quite young. That being said, there are also a good number of students who have previous degrees from their home countries, or who have taken time away from school before entering university. Students in their early to mid-20s are the minority, but we are not alone.

Medical students in white coats at Humanitas UniversityWill most people speak English? 

In terms of the languages spoken, I would say that English is very prominent. Early on, someone told me that this is probably the biggest social difference between Humanitas and IMS-Milan and the other state universities. Hearing English around campus is common, and everyone in the student office speaks English. The professors also always speak English in class, and their fluency is quite high. 

Among the students, some friend groups speak Italian to each other, so you will hear it often. I was fortunate enough to make friends with a group of Italian students who always make the effort to speak English, even to each other, which is very considerate of them. 

So, you will be surrounded by English at Humanitas. However, it is also very important that you make the effort to learn Italian, since your third year will involve interactions with patients and doctors at the hospital. They will not always speak English to you.

In all likelihood, like me, you will be way too busy with studying, going to class, making friends, and travelling, to really focus on your Italian in your first year. I’m ashamed to say that outside of ordering my coffee, my Italian is terrible so far. Not to worry! There’s still lots of time to learn! 

If you’re anything like me, you still have many, many more questions about your first year and about Humanitas in general. I look forward to writing another post including the answers to questions such as: What are the professors like? What does the campus look like? And, how much will it all cost? 

Things are always changing at Humanitas. You can stay up-to-date by subscribing to the MEDschool.it newsletter and joining our Facebook group. IMATschool, meanwhile, can help you prepare for the next entrance exam.

Erik Campano

Chief Editor at MEDschool.it
Blog Editor
Erik Campano is a graduate student in Umeå, Sweden, studying the ethics of artificial intelligence in medicine. He formerly was an academic consultant to the English-language medical school of the University of Turin. Erik completed his Bachelor’s of science in Symbolic Systems (cognitive science) at Stanford University, and then he worked for about eight years as a radio news anchor, before moving to biomedical scientific study and research at the University of Paris and Columbia University. Erik grew up in Connecticut, is a citizen of the United States and Germany, and his family is a mix of Filipino, Italian, and German.
Erik Campano