Dr Orsolya Benedek fondly remembers the 1990s, when she was a student at the Medical University of Pécs. Historically, this was an unsteady, eventful, path-finding period, but it did not fundamentally affect the enthusiasm, the readiness to act and the desire to learn of the youth back then. Contributing to this was also the fact that the “great old professors” of the medical faculty were still alive and educated at the time. Life took Orsolya to the University of Rostock where she still works, at the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene (Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie, Virologie und Hygiene), as a specialist, instructor, head of quality management, and she also directs the laboratory hygiene and water microbiology laboratory.
written by Rita Schweier
- What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the period as a medic in Pécs?
- The first is how much analogue education took place at the time, how minimal digitization was, with all its advantages and disadvantages. We had to fight harder to master the curriculum, but it was this active participation that allowed us to learn thinking, to think in context. Even today, I start making handwritten notes for lectures that are interesting to me, even though the material I have listened to is already available in digital form. Those university years are fixed in me to that extent.
- What was the moral like at the time?
- I attended to the faculty in the early to mid-90s, it was still an independent university at the time. After many decades, I belonged to the first freshman class where admission success solely depended on academic performance. Just as the whole country was characterized by the search for a path at that time – what it means to live in a civic democracy, a market economy – so was the Medical University of Pécs: how to turn a socialist higher education institution into a high-quality, modern institution that preserves its traditions. At that time, a new Dialysis Centre was built, kidney transplantation began, and the organization of the Heart Institute began with the establishment of a cardiac catheter laboratory at the 2nd Surgery Clinic at Irgalmasok street. All these without EU support, with serious economic problems in the background. Regardless of all that, we were full of joy and openness. I sensed that theoretical education was more emphasized at the time, often of a watershed nature, but the practical requirements were quite low, and the acquisition of a significant portion of these skills depended primarily on individual interest and diligence. The Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was an exception, where flexible, small group education and individual, outpatient hospitalization were already promoted, due to their field of expertise, which not only meant a lifelong experience, but also resulted in more effective learning.
- Who were your lecturers and how did you relate to them?
- In the 90s, the composition of the professorship changed a lot, a big generational change took place. I was still able to listen to the “great professors”: Béla Flerkó, Gábor Kelényi, Ferenc Varga, Iván Kétyi, András Tigyi, József Tigyi, Endre Kuhn, and the newly appointed ordinaries: László Pajor, Tamás Dóczi, István Ember Judit Nagy, Péter Németh. I especially liked the lectures of Károly Méhes, Károly Ozsváth, Alajos Pár, Gábor Ternák, Gyula Tóth, Marietta Vértes and Hilda Zibotics. Almost all of them seemed inaccessible to us, floating at Olympian heights.
We also had many excellent, enthusiastic, helpful practice leaders, mentors, with whom we had a more direct relationship and whom did their best to make us master the various subjects well. I remember several of my teachers with great love and respect, many of whom have had impressive careers in their fields as well as in education policy: József Bódis, Béla Csala, József Deli, Péter Gyűrűs, Katalin Hollódy, Iván Horváth, Gábor Farkas, Béla Mezey , Zsuzsanna Nagy, Gábor Pethő, Zoltán Pfund, Zoltán Porpáczy, Péter Révész, András Szörényi, Zsuzsanna Vértes, and Gábor Deák.
- How did you and your fellow students help each other? Have these relationships been maintained?
- We were basically supportive and collegial to each other, despite the fact that our background, interests and goals were also very different. We have always tried to share educational information, our notes on lectures and practices, and have also supported each other in academic student work. In the first three semesters, the Scholastic Honorary Society in Histology held at the former A Dormitory at 48-as tér (today’s Rector’s Office) was extremely popular. As part of this, the characteristics of the sections examined at the anatomy finals and comprehensive examinations were demonstrated by the senior students of the Institute of Anatomy. The most important handwritten information for the exams was given in the lectures and practices, because, with a few exceptions - such as “Ganong Physiology” or “Robbins Pathology” - there were not very uniform, modern textbooks easily accessible to everyone. I was lucky because my father always provided me with up-to-date English and German literature. However, thanks to the English Program, some up-to-date, foreign textbooks were always available in the library as well.
The friendships made at the university are all beautiful memories. The best is still there today, defining and inspiring, over space and time.
- Why was microbiology the most attractive to you?
- I have always been more attracted to theoretical subjects and I felt that in microbiology – especially in basic pathogenetic research that deals with how an infection develops at the molecular-cellular level – there are many theoretical subjects that I like (molecular biology, immunology, biochemistry) run together, in addition to being related to practical areas such as infectology, infection control, hospital hygiene, and antibiotic stewardship. However, this may not have been so obvious to a medical student in the 1990s, and the teaching staff of the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology at the time, who shed light on important connections with a completely different style but with infinite conviction and enthusiasm, played a crucial role in realizing this. Professor Iván Kétyi explained the whole bacterial genetics with a chalk on the black board. Professors Júlia Szekeres and Tibor Pál presented the quite relevant immunological topics related to microbes with great vigour, didactically and in a concentrated way. Professor Béla Kocsis passed on the basics of antibiotics in a simple, vivid, humorous way also with a chalk. Assistant professor Sándor Vörös, György Szűcs and Gyula Mestyán head physicians connected Infectious Diseases and Microbiology very well. Professor Emődy – who became my TDK and PhD supervisor – taught the molecular basis of microbial pathogenesis in depth and in a structured way, and as a practice leader he also made us understand the essence of clinical microbiological diagnostics. During the years of TDK, which were both joyful and persistent, I was able to get acquainted with the basics of precise, experimental work thanks to Professor Emődy’s excellent assistant, Róza Lajkó. As a graduate doctor, one of my colleagues, Mónika Kerényi’s great knowledge, diligence and humanity also strongly influenced me.
- Why didn’t you stay in Pécs?
- As I mentioned, as a student, basic microbiological research caught my attention. I remember in the summer after my sophomore year, before I came into direct contact with microbiology, I read Lewis Sinclair’s exciting novel: Arrowsmith about a bacteriophage research doctor. I thought maybe I could work with an obsession like the protagonist, because basic research is only possible and worth doing that way. During my postgraduate study trips to America and Germany, however, it became clear that I couldn't and probably didn’t even want to delve into basic research so self-sacrificingly, so I switched to clinical microbiology.
After returning from my last study trip to Munich in early 2008, I worked at the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Immunology for almost another year and a half. During this period, it has been proven that in the long run, not only will my plans for clinical microbiology be unfeasible, but I will not be able to improve myself as I would like in teaching. Since I could not find a job at home that matched my professional ideas, I continued to search in Germany, where I was eventually employed at the 600-bed Bautzen hospital as a microbiologist and hospital hygienist. I had to perform both functions alone, which was a big task, in fact, deep water for a doctor more accustomed to research labs.
- How did you get to Rostock?
- I got to Rostock via Bautzen. For independent hospital hygiene work – although I was able to receive constant help from the hygienist of the University of Dresden, Professor Lutz Jatzwauk – it was essential to take various compulsory courses. The one-week in-service training on hygiene audits, supported by the German Society for Microbiology and Hygiene (DGHM), was held alternately in Rostock and Homburg (Saarland) at the time, as the two medical microbiology professors there developed the curriculum and organized the training. In the summer of 2012, when I was able to get on the waiting list, Rostock was just in line. This is how I met my current boss, Professor Andreas Podbielski. I was greatly impressed by his extremely diverse, yet very well-structured, fundamentally microbiological pathogenesis-based knowledge, which didactically connect practice and theory, his enthusiasm and commitment to clinical microbiology and infection control. He was also pleased with my course performance and in September 2013, when we met at the annual DGHM Congress just held in Rostock, he offered me a job at his institute.
I am currently a specialist, educator, head of quality management and head of the Hospital Hygiene and Aquatic Microbiology Laboratory at the Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie, Virologie und Hygiene (Institute of Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene) at the University of Rostock (Universitätsmedizin Rostock). I am also the consular of the Haemato-Oncology Clinic belonging to the centre, and we have worked with them on joint dissertation and smaller research topics within the framework of the university’s oncology-research focus.
- What does the knowledge you acquired at the Medical University of Pécs mean to you?
- The university years inevitably contributed to my way of thinking, my attitude towards laboratory diagnostic work, and my basic knowledge. I was able to learn the basics of classical microbiological diagnostics and laboratory work, as well as – through the tragically deceased biochemistry professor Gyula Kispál – molecular techniques, which are now also classical. It was and still is possible to build on all this, and the development of the field could be critically followed.
- Do you know about any professional cooperation between the medical faculties of Pécs and Rostock?
- I didn’t know that such a thing existed, but I checked the PubMed database, where I also found three publications that have co-authors from Rostock and Pécs. Two of these are also topical from the Institute of Translational Medicine of the Medical School in Pécs and the Clinic of Nephrology in Rostock.