TRADITION AND INNOVATION: HUNGARIAN SEMMELWEIS UNIVERSITY IS CELEBRATING 250 YEARS

Professor Béla Merkely, internationally recognized cardiologist, rector of Semmelweis University, shared his views on how tradition and innovation intertwine to determine the University’s present activities and plans for the future.

Why is this anniversary special for Semmelweis University?

From its humble beginnings as a medical faculty of the University of Nagyszombat established by Hungarian Queen Maria Theresa to becoming one of the best medical education, research and healthcare institutions in Central-Europe, this 250-year anniversary is an important milestone in our university’s history. A good occasion of celebrating what we have achieved so far, and also to define what kind of university we want to build over the next quarter millennium. Semmelweis University is now among the top 401-500 universities in the world and the top 50 in Europe. I truly believe that the last 250 years have equipped us with the tools and expertise needed to keep this momentum going and to put Semmelweis University at the forefront of the world on the short term.

What are the foundations of this momentum?

Today, Semmelweis University has many things to be proud of. We have grown from the single medical faculty of Nagyszombat to a six-faculty university where internationally recognized medical and health sciences education, research and innovation activity and patient care is conducted. We established a tradition of excellence in our education programmes in the fields of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, health sciences, health and public services, and conductive education. We became a truly international university with one third of students coming from around the globe. We have a cutting-edge clinical, practice-oriented background in our clinics where we provide health care services for about 2 million patients per year, as well as an outstanding research output produced by our more than 300 research groups. And last but not least, we have our most valuable assets behind our success: our dedicated leadership, researchers, employee and student community. I strongly believe that our traditions and significant results together with our commitment to innovation will serve as the catalyst in the coming years.

What is the long-term vision for Semmelweis University?

We are proud to be one of Central Europe’s best universities and knowledge centres in the field of medicine and health sciences, but there is always room to grow and to become better. Our vision is to be one of Europe’s leading institutions within the next decade by continuing to increase our international visibility to improve our academic and scientific reputation and to grow our position in the higher education world rankings. Semmelweis University of the future – trustworthily to its namesake, Ignác Semmelweis’ name and spirit - has to be even more flexible, innovative and practice-oriented in all aspects and fields. To support this, Semmelweis University’s 250th anniversary is intertwined with a consistent and complex development strategy that aims to realize an overarching reform in fields of education, research and healthcare.

What is the essence of the University’s development strategy and what are the main fields of reform projects going underway?

Our development strategy is driven by the increasingly rapid and complex changes and challenges in healthcare and higher education. As knowledge in the area of medical and health sciences practically doubles every two years, it is crucial to not simply follow trends, but to be a kind of „trailblazer” by generating new knowledge, internationally competitive education programmes, procedures and patents. We have many projects underway in order to achieve our goals. One of the most important among these is the introduction of a reformed medical curriculum to increase the role of practice-oriented training in our teaching programmes. The continuous quality improvement of our healthcare services and the modernization of our infrastructure is also a priority to ensure the most efficient use of our high-quality healthcare capacities and to provide the highest level care for those in need.  We also pay particular attention to prevention and health promotion, which is essential in both the healthcare services and the training of future doctors and health professionals.

We are strongly committed to bringing the university closer to the health industry and generating innovative scientific output that can directly be used in clinical practice and in the market. A great example of these efforts is our undergoing project: the Health Industry-Biotechnology Science Park. It is planned to be one of the largest biomedical research and innovation centres in the region which will play a defining role in the renewal of the basis of research and knowledge.

How do global challenges in medical higher education influence Semmelweis University’s development strategy? 

There is a growing competition among higher education institutions worldwide: we have to do our best to continuously develop our educational programmes in order to meet international trends and remain an attractive destination for our prospective students. The changes in demography and healthcare, the development of technology and the mobility of clients have significantly modified the expectations towards medical education and healthcare providers. These challenges require new skills and much more sophisticated knowledge from future medical practitioners, making lifelong learning essential. The workforce shortage in healthcare requires the medical education system to provide solutions that make it possible for graduates to take an active part in patient care as soon as possible.

As an answer to the challenges we face, our solution is to educate the best doctors, health professionals and researchers, who are able to stand their ground all over the world, through highly efficient and quality teaching programs. Thus, the recently renewed medical curriculum was carefully designed with the active participation of Semmelweis’ professors and students and the contribution of prominent European and American partner institutions such as Harvard University, the University of Heidelberg and Freiburg – to name a few. The program places a greater emphasis on clinical training than before, enabling students to gain valuable experience and useful practical skills and competencies during their studies.

How do these ongoing developments enhance the career prospects of Semmelweis University students?

These ongoing developments directly influence all aspects of our university: our education programs, research activities, and quality of healthcare services, consequently having a positive effect on student life in general. We are committed to providing the very best environment to our students, ensuring they are well-rounded and prepared for professional life after graduation. Semmelweis University alumni excel in all corners of the globe, many of them renowned in their positions and achieving ground-breaking results in their specific fields. Additionally, we are lucky to have the opportunity to choose from the best pool of student talent: there is a high over-application rate every year for all of our programmes taught in three languages, and our international students represent more than 70 countries around the world. We are proud that Semmelweis University’s diploma is valued worldwide and the degrees issued are recognised in the European Union an in several other countries. Upon finishing their studies, students receive not only a highly-valued diploma, but access to great career opportunities; nearly two-thirds of our students find high-level employment within one month of graduating.

Today 's student is tomorrow' s teacher, researcher, health care professional – we believe in this and this is what defines our development efforts at Semmelweis University.