gms | German Medical Science

The structure of Medical Education in Europe: Implementing Bologna – On the way to a European success story?
International Conference hosted by the German Rectors' Conference (HRK)

10 - 11 October 2008, Berlin

The Bologna Process needs academic career consulting in medical education

Extended Abstract

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  • corresponding author presenting/speaker Ruddy Verbinnen - Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Brussels, Belgium
  • Bart Rombaut - Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, Brussels, Belgium

The Structure of Medical Education in Europe: Implementing Bologna – On the way to a European success story?. International Conference hosted by the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK). Berlin, 10.-11.10.2008. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2011. Doc08hrk27

doi: 10.3205/08hrk27, urn:nbn:de:0183-08hrk279

Published: January 13, 2011

© 2011 Verbinnen et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.


Abstract: This paper results from the poster exhibition of the international conference on the Structure of Medical Education in Europe, hosted by the German Rector’s Conference (HRK), which took place on 10/11 October 2008 in Berlin.

In response to the European Bologna guidelines to create a European Higher Education Area in which students should become more mobile and to the need of more flexibility in higher education also, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) installed in 2004 ‘Academic Career Consultants’ (ACCs) open to all (potential) students, national and international. The ACC deals with questions or challenges in connection with the (flexible and/or mobile) academic educational path. For the students (wanting to study at) the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the VUB there is a full time ACC. From the five years of experience in working with medical students VUB wants to inform all involved medical education professionals on the assets of academic career consultancy. VUB also wants to invite others to help setting up a quality driven international network of ACCs.

Introduction: The international conference on the Structure of Medical Education in Europe hosted by the German Rector’s Conference took place on 10/11 October 2008 in Berlin. Participants from Medical Schools and others came from all over of Europe and the world, to take part in these two days of gathering around the main topic of this conference, being the curricular reform in medical education within the Bologna Process. On the programme were presentations, panel discussions, workshops, and a poster exhibition.

For this occasion Professor Jerome Rotgans (Aachen/Germany) coordinated and invited participants to submit abstracts for posters concerning the implementation of the Bologna Process in medical education in Europe. The poster on the ‘Bologna Process needs academic career consultancy (ACC) in medical education’ was selected for presentation on this international conference [1] and later, as ‘extended abstract’, for this article in this issue of Medizinische Ausbildung.

The aim of this article is to reveal a specific answer to the formulated need for ACC recognition. The Vrije Universiteit Brussel, being an innovative university, was one of the first of the Belgian universities to introduce a new profession, the academic career consultant (meanwhile all Flemish universities and other higher education institutes installed these ACCs). The authors present a model of the facility which the ACC offers to students and educational professionals1.

Bologna and the changing reality for medical students: The Bologna Process directs the European Higher Education Area. This process has brought new directives with new regulations and policies, for medical and other students. The Bologna Process brought the introduction of the Bachelor/Master system, the stress on mobility in the European Higher Education Area and a credit system regulated by European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). A central aim of the Bologna Process is an increase in mobility during the (medical) studies (Bologna Process: ’by 2020, at least 20% of those graduating in the European Higher Education Area should have had a study or training period abroad’) ( and as a logical consequence of this European policy during professional life also.

In response to, on the one hand the European Bologna guidelines to create a European Higher Education Area, in which, as referred to earlier, students should become more mobile, and on the other hand the Flemish Flexibility Decree, where students whatever their studies are seen as part of the Erasmus Life-Long Learning Project, the VUB installed in 2004 the ‘Academic Career Consultant' (there are eight full-time equivalent ACCs for more than 10,000 students at the VUB) open to all (potential) students, national and international. As the job title says, the ACC deals with any questions or challenges in connection with the (flexible and/or mobile) academic educational path.

Academic career consultancy as a case study: At the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the VUB, a one full-time equivalent ACC is ready to advise (mobile) (medical) students in Europe, having questions on one of the above mentioned topics.

More than five years of experience in dealing with questions from medical students learned that the Bologna Process is much more than a highbrow or abstract process, as some might consider. It changes a lot in everyday life of medical students. Without going into detail on all these matters, VUB learned that medical students are in need of clear information

  • on the impact of the Bologna Declaration and the Bologna Process.
  • on the structure of the medical curriculum in the VUB or elsewhere, and this in regards to their current studies or later professional possibilities, or they may have questions when confronted with the choice among several Master programmes once one has earned a Bachelor Degree in Medicine, or the choice among several ‘Master after Master’ programmes once one has earned a Master Degree in Medicine (’Master after Master’ is the official name for postgraduate programmes in Flanders/Belgium, such as the Master in Advanced Medicine or the Master in General Practice) [2].
  • on mobility in or outside of Europe, on clinical or research internships abroad.
  • on Erasmus placement [3], on flexibility of the medical studies in order to continue their studies following a tailor-made educational path (APL, APEL, etc.), or individualized study programme.
  • on exemptions or retakes.
  • on learning outcomes and recognition of qualifications (ECTS and ECVET).

The VUB is convinced that the availability of correct information on all these matters may favour a more flexible and mobile spirit in students.

Medical education and Academic Career Consultants: The ACC watches over a continuous progress of all medical students through the medical curriculum (the medical curriculum in Belgium (still) is seven years – 3 years of Bachelor and 4 years of Master). Individual and collective academic sessions are organized to offer consultation and advice on the medical curriculum. Besides the control of progress, the students are in need of a consultant who guides them through complex recognition procedures. (Future) medical students want their credits recognized in a maximum way in order to start medical studies or continue them elsewhere or even retake them at a later stadium. In order to offer students an individual approach, the intended learning outcomes of the medical curriculum are compared to the already achieved learning outcomes of every potential medical student (all medical faculties in Flanders agreed on common learning outcomes for the Master in Medicine; [4]).The ACC will look at the obtained individual records of every student. This will result in an individual and flexible study trajectory which will have to be approved by the ACC together with the responsible academics.

In order to facilitate the mobility of medical students and its recognition, a combination of comparable volume and content is needed. The widely used ECTS offers a standard measure of volume of learning and deserves to be differed in all medical schools in Europe (a survey by MEDINE showed that a majority of the European medical schools have installed or at least are planning to install ECTS; [5]). Other and more recent surveys have confirmed these data. The content of learning is expressed in learning outcomes. With the TUNING methodology applied in medical education by the thematic networks MEDINE (2004-2007) and MEDINE 2 (2009-2011) ( there will be comparable learning outcomes for Bachelor and Master qualifications. The project ‘TUNING Educational Structures in Europe’ started in 2000 as a project to link the political objectives of the Bologna Process and at a later stage the Lisbon Strategy higher educational sector. Over time TUNING has developed into a process, an approach to (re-)design, develop, implement, evaluate and enhance quality of first, second and third cycle degree programmes (TUNNING, 2000,

The transparency created by use of the TUNING methodology is needed to create trust within and between all involved medical schools. With a ‘Golden Standard’ in volume (ECTS) and a consensus on the minimum of agreed common learning outcomes (TUNING) one only need to trust each others’ documents. It is there that the ACC will be able to play an important role of goalkeeper. Both volume and content will appear on diplomas and their diploma supplement. In an era of advanced technologies, fraud with (copied) ‘official’ documents is a real threat. Therefore, not only will ACCs help the students, they will provide universities with a quality control of the learning outcomes, and they also will be of help in the quality control of the documents leading to the recognition of ECTS. All documents should be checked by the ACCs in order to avoid ‘false’ recognition of perverted data. Control of these documents will not only lead towards an honest mobility but will also help to keep out fraudulent persons from the medical profession and in the end the ACC will be a small but vital link in a safe and high quality health care.

Academic Career Consultants as key persons in the mobility of medical students on a European level: The authors fully subscribe the feeling of the HRK conference on the Structure of Medical Education in Europe ‘that special national solutions are counterproductive (...) as they tend to make mobility and mutual recognition in the Common European Higher Education Area more difficult’ (HRK, 2008,

The ACCs are key persons for teachers and students in regard to the information on Bologna. They have become an essential interface in facilitation of the recognition of study periods in medical faculties and schools undertaken by mobile European students. Mobility and flexibility in medical studies bring many good things as there are international experiences, exchange of clinical and research knowledge and skills, learning about other (medical) culture, widen the own view, etc. Students are invited and encouraged to participate in the ‘making’ of an Area of Higher Education in Europe. Therefore every (medical) student should have the right to receive adequate and ‘tailor made’ advice by a professional who can look up the individual challenges when students want to be mobile. ACCs also fill in the need of control and quality assessment. For all these reasons, and there are certainly more, the authors plea for a European network of these ACCs in order to promote flexibility and mobility and to facilitate the recognition of study periods and/or placements abroad.

Conclusion: A good working network of Academic Career Consultants will be an asset in the promotion of mobility of medical students but also in preservation of the quality control of achieved learning outcomes in mobile students. In their way, they will eventually contribute to a safe health care system in Europe. All interested persons are invited to contact the authors [5].


1 Ruddy Verbinnen, MSc, PhD, was working on Academic Career Consultancy (2005-2010/01) guiding students, working on educational policy and mobility. Now in Quality Assurance at Life Sciences VUB.


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