Chapter 5 – Doctor Tsan Early College Time

The college education system in the Soviet Union was completely different compared to other countries in the world. Most of the high school graduates had a desire to continue their education and become professionals. Despite the fact that the salary of an average toolmaker in the USSR was approximately 4 times more than the income of an average physician, we all tried to reach our goals and to bring our professional dreams to life. The requirements in Soviet schools were high. By graduation, a high school student already knew a lot about different professions and had a strong opinion of what he/she liked and wished to do.

And because so many people applied for higher education, colleges were unable to accept all of them. Each enrollee had to take 4 – 5 different examinations in varying subjects and only the best were admitted.

Medical schools traditionally were in high demand and required four tests: biology, chemistry, physics, and Russian Language + Literature (essay). The Soviet educational system did not allow any multiple-choice examinations. On each test, the examinee pulled a ticket from a basket with four questions that he/she presented to the examiner (usually high-level scientists) face to face. No writing or guessing. Anytime the examiner wasn’t comfortable with the answer given, additional questions were asked.

The good thing about the Soviet college system was that it was free for all students regardless of family income.  The college paid students on a monthly basis that possessed an above C average. It was a really small amount, but enough for a roof, food, and even for some limited clothing and entertainment. Students who had all A’s received more money and could afford to go dancing or to the discotheque.

From the very first day at the medical school, all professors, deans, and instructors called students “DOCTOR”. I remember after a wild weekend, when a group of students, including myself, celebrated our first week at medical school. The biology professor asked me a question and I did not have an answer because the weekend was too relaxing and I did not learn anything.  The Professor sent me back to my seat and said, “Doctor Tsan, you have absolutely no idea about this subject… You were supposed to learn it last week, but apparently you did not. I want you to come to my office tonight at 8:30 PM and we will discuss it in private.” I was ashamed, but at the same time, it gave me a lot of self-respect and self-confidence because it was the first time in my life I was called Doctor Tsan.

All students were required to always wear white lab coats (the medical uniform in Europe) and the campus of the college looked white from aside.

The good thing about the medical education system in the Soviet Union was that most of the students were 100% dedicated to their future profession. They had to see, touch, and analyze dead people, do lab work with blood, urine, and other products of living organisms, perform tests on frogs, mice, dogs, etc., and get in close contact with live bacteria and viruses. We were not afraid or disgusted. We were proud.

I was happy. Every day from early in the morning till late in the evening, everything in my life was about human anatomy, physiology, diagnostic, pharmacology, and treatment. Each day someone called me Doctor Tsan and I wish my grandpa could have seen me.