This month we speak with one of our specialist who has been with us for the past 6 years. Neurologist and neurophysiologist, Dr. Edina Varga, speaks with us about about her path to neurology, her experiences abroad, and her work with us at FirstMed.
Dr. Varga, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Budapest along with my three siblings. Like many of my colleagues I came from a family of doctors, especially on my mother’s side. Given such a large number of doctors in the family, outside of my parents, there really wasn’t any pressure put on me to actually become one. To the contrary, growing up I regularly heard how demanding but ultimately unrewarding career path it was. Of course there was little which would discourage me from this route.
After graduating from the secondary school I applied for admission to the main medical university, Semmelweis, without success. Instead of admitting defeat I choose to spend the next year working as an auxiliary nurse in the neurology department of the Pediatric Clinic #2. On my second attempt at medical school I was accepted to the Szeged Medical University. In addition to medical studies I also studied vocational translation; Szeged University being the only place where this course was offered in the country. In addition to my medical degree I also received a diploma in ‘English – Hungarian medical translation’.
I was fortunate enough to gain valuable experience staying in Szeged working as an emergency doctor. I gained a tremendous amount of experience during my first seven years working in an ambulance. It taught me how to work with a lot of different people, as well as exposure to a wide range of cases which broadened my vision and experience. This broad vision helps me to this day, as I also work in a stroke department, with a similar load of diverse cases.
How did you come to the field of neurology?
Some may say that I was close to the fire even at a very early age. My mother worked as an electrophysiology assistant (this being the science that pertains to the flow of ions in biological tissues and the electrical recording techniques that enable the measurement of this flow), in a nearby medical center; this is where I would end up most days after school. Some recall me at that very young age attempting electrophysiological tests on my teddy bear, one that I still hold on to. Later, while at medical university, I actually planned on becoming a traumatologist or an emergency doctor.
I found my way back to neurology when I was a normal control subject for my roommate who was doing scientific student work in neurology. Then I attended some of those workshops and I fell in love with it. Together with studies in oxiology (emergency medicine) I began scientific work in neurology, which is the department which ultimately won me over. It was the support of my wonderful supervisor which made me hunger for more. After spending seven years in the emergency department it became a much easier decision to make since I desired longer doctor-patient relationships than those found in the back of an ambulance.
In conjunction with my medical studies I undertook work on my PhD, spending time at the Georg August University in Göttingem (Germany). A Hungarian professor teaching there, who maintained a close connection to the Szeged University, became my supervisor for eight months in Germany.
Your German must be pretty good then, isn’t it?
My English and Danish are far better. First I spent six weeks in Denmark, which is home to many neurologists, where I could study EEG testing in an epilepsy center; It went by quite quickly. Coincidentally my supervisor from Szeged became the center’s director, asking me to join their team which, lead to a three-year stay. The first three months we spent in intensive Danish studies; six hours in a language school then another two to three hours of home study, every day for three months. By the fourth month I started working but the language studies continued with five to six hours in language school on Saturdays.
How did you like it there?
The life- and workstyle are completely different to the Hungarian experience. Danes are left to manage their own work, study, and rest. Employers know quality work can only be done in the most relaxed possible environment by doctors who are well rested and have the capacity to continuously study. I was able to complete a training in neurophysiology which is completely different to what we have in Hungary. Neurophysiologists in Scandinavian countries rely more heavily on diagnostic testing, than physicians here. In Hungary diagnostic imaging is more widely utilized. The three years I spent in Denmark were quite useful professionally.
How did FirstMed come into the picture?
I had barely unpacked my bag when I was approached by FirstMed’s previous neurologist asking me to take over his Hungarian practices, as he was leaving for Germany; not a difficult decision. So six years ago I been working at FirstMed on Fridays as a neurologist and neurophysiologist. At the same time I was working at the Institute of Genomic Medicine and Rare Diseases of Semmelweis University for a year, but my heart pulled me back to Szeged. Now I hop on the train for FirstMed every Friday. In Szeged outside of my job as a physician I teach general medical, neurology, and neurophysiology to students and physical therapists.
I enjoy FirstMed’s environment which allows for a higher focus on actual medical work. What I mean is that I do not have to split my time answering phones, doing basic administration, or organizing outside tests; these task are all done by other team members based on my advice. When I see patients they already come with test results that I can work with. Additionally seeing a diverse selection of patients from all over the world and occasionally encountering cases which are not even found in major Hungarian neurology centers makes the extra work more rewarding. As an example I once encountered a patient with cerebral malaria; this never occurs in Hungary.
Lastly I would mention due to most patients’ coming with international or private medical insurance, I am able to suggest more elaborate tests which fall outside of the coverage of the national social insurance which may help quicken a proper diagnosis and treatments.
Thank you Dr. Varga for your time and effort.