Yurii V. Kozminih

Department of Microbiology

Izhevsk State Medical Institute

INTRODUCED BY: Roger W. Koment, Ph.D., BSEF Director

As our readers know, most articles submitted to the Basic Science Educator (outside of our featured columns) are generally presented without introduction. But being a Microbiologist (Virologist) myself, I considered it a special privilege to meet Professor Kozminih when I visited Russia, and to benefit from the hospitality of his Department in a special way. Through my interpreter, we spoke at length about the discipline of microbiology in both Russia and the United States, noting our differences and similarities. In this article, Professor Kozminih provides a brief description of the Russian system for teaching microbiology to medical students and offers his ideas for improving student retention of material. Such concerns seem very familiar to many of us.

I would prepare the Western reader only with this information: 1) While we are most accustomed to a 4 year course of undergraduate medical education, in Russia it is 6 years (for a more detailed description, see the article on page 19 by Professor Gorbunov); 2) Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has always been geographically divided into many different Republics. Udmurtia is one of these and its capital is the city of Izhevsk; 3) Medical education is quite uniform throughout Russia, being established by authorities in Moscow. This allows for very little independent variation from the established protocols (Professor Kozminih indicates 13-15%); and 4) a caveat: I must personally assume responsibility for any inaccuracies due to translation errors in editing the English version which follows.

Lastly, may I convey to our Microbiology Colleagues in the United States and Canada Professor Kozminih’s desire to establish collaborative ties with those having interest in the epidemiology of tick-borne (viral) encephalitis and the use of genetics in the diagnosis of infectious diseases. Please contact me for further information if you as an individual, or as a department, have interest in exploring a collaborative arrangement.

Izhevsk State Medical Institute is located in the capital of Udmurt Republic, but is under the authority of the Ministry of Public Health of Russia. It was founded in 1933 and is regarded as being among the five leading medical institutes of Russia for teaching and research. Our former students are situated in different regions of Russia, but some work in Germany, Israel and the United States of America.

According to our teaching program, second year medical students are taught Microbiology with a section in Immunology and Virology. They study these subjects concurrently with Anatomy, Physiology, Histology, and Biochemistry. This program has been recommended by the Administrative Department for High and Special Medical Schools of the Ministry of Public Health of Russia, but can be changed within the limits of 13-15% depending on the local conditions. In such a way it is accepted as a “teaching program” by the administration of our institute, and it is the basic document (authority) which regulates the teaching process.

During the academic year, the whole course of microbiology is divided into two parts: General and
Medical Microbiology. In “General Microbiology” students study morphology and physiology of bacteria and viruses, their activity in the pathogenesis of diseases, as well as questions of immunity. In “Medical Microbiology?, the microbiological characteristics of some infectious diseases, including the properties of pathogenic agents, their role in the pathogenesis, the peculiarities of immunity, methods of laboratory diagnostics, and principles of specific prevention and treatment are taught. In our institute, the teaching program in microbiology consist of 72 hours of lectures, 105 hours of laboratory classes, and 7 hours of examinations, for a total of 184 hours.

Lecture is the basic teaching process, where students acquire theoretical knowledge. These lectures are delivered not only to second year students but to graduates as well when their theme is Microbiological Diagnostics of Infectious and Non-Infectious Diseases, and Hospital Infections. Attendance of lectures is compulsory for second year students because of additional material given which pertains to the laboratory classes following the lecture. This information includes accident prevention and safety procedures, since students work with living cultures in the laboratory. Frequently these microorganisms are the causative agents of infectious diseases and are the actual discharges and other materials derived from our patients. All students are instructed in safety procedures before working in the labs, and we can say with assurance that no one has been infected in our laboratories since the year of the institute’s founding. These instructions on biological safety were elaborated by the World Health Organization (1983, 1990).

Control computer tests are held in the forms of concluding sessions. Students’ knowledge is scored with marks on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high). One third of all students in the second year and some senior students carry out research not only in our labs but also in labs of therapeutic and surgical teaching hospitals. Our (13-15% limited) modification of the program includes research into the following questions: a detailed study of tick born encephalitis, hemorrhagic fever, the natural foci of this infection in the territory of the Udmurt Republic, microbiological diagnostics of oncological diseases, and computer and genetic diagnostic of infectious diseases.

In the process of studying microbiology, every student is required to learn fixed practical skills and abilities. Each skill should be perfected during several lab classes and exhibited in the final exam, which is conducted at the end of the second year in oral form. This practical exam is given during the concluding sessions, which makes it possible to score students’ knowledge objectively.

The discipline of microbiology occupies a special place in the system of a physician’s training. This is the science that gives medical students thorough biological knowledge and provides a solution of such problems as microbial diagnostics. The acquisition of knowledge specific to prevention and treatment of infectious diseases gives this science a definite applied character.

As stated previously, microbiology is taught during the second year, that is, in the theoretical course of training, but the clinical training begins at the end of the second or in the third year. Such a gap has a negative effect on the students’ retention of knowledge and in the system of medical education in general. The Ministry of Public Health of the Udmurt Republic and the administration of our institute made the decision that microbiology will be taught during the fourth and fifth semesters with the final exam being in the third year. But we consider this only a partial solution of the problem. Our suggestion is that “General Microbiology” should be taught in the second year as it is now, but “Medical Microbiology” should be considered in each clinical department. Such a program of teaching existed in the 1960s and ?70s.

In general, our department has a high authority rate among both students and graduates of our institute. Laboratories of our departments have good equipment from both Russian and foreign manufacturers, and the activity of our instructors is greatly appreciated by the Ministry of Public Health and Education of the Udmurt Republic and of Russia.