5 things to consider before choosing a Caribbean medical school
The United States is currently facing a shortage of doctors. According to Association of Faculties of Medicine (AAMC), the United States “will face a shortage of 54,100 to 139,000 doctors by 2033”. The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the need for doctors in the United States, particularly as the population grows and ages.
However, despite this growing need, many qualified applicants find it difficult to enter medical school. Only 40.9% of applicants enrolled in medical school in 2019, with the competition getting more and more difficult each year. For students with a lower scientific MCAT or GPA and less medicine-focused experiences than their peers, they might find themselves only receiving rejection letters from US medical schools.
For these types of students, Caribbean medical schools are often an attractive option, as many have higher acceptance rates than their American counterparts.
However, before committing to a Caribbean or foreign medical school, it is crucial to choose wisely, as acceptance does not always end in success. While it may seem like an easier path to medicine, there can be some unexpected obstacles along the way.
What to look for in a Caribbean medical school
Medical schools located in the Caribbean have different levels of accreditation, strengths, and opportunities for students. However, four Caribbean medical schools, known as “The Big Four”, have a solid reputation as an alternative route for American students to study medicine. These universities are:
- Saint-Georges University (SKU)
- American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (ASC)
- Saba University School of Medicine
- Ross University School of Medicine
Before you take the plunge and commit to a foreign medical school, here are five things to consider.
Accreditation is important because it shows that the medical school has met national standards for a medical degree program. For American and Canadian medical schools, the programs are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
LCME accreditation establishes that medical students are eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and enter residences approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).
From 2024, only graduates of foreign medical schools accredited by agencies with WFME recognition status will be eligible to pursue graduate medical education in the United States. Through the WFME Recognition Program, the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) assesses accreditation agencies against internationally accepted accreditation criteria and grants recognition status to agencies that follow these criteria. For Caribbean medical schools, there are three accreditation agencies that have WFME recognition status: the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), the Accreditation Commission of Faculties of Medicine (ACCM) and the Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders.
2. Federal student loan qualification
The medical school is expensive, with about 73% of medical students graduate with debt. In 2020, the average cost for U.S. public medical schools is $ 250,222, and that figure is $ 330,180 for U.S. private medical schools. Having access to federal loans can be essential in managing this debt, as you can defer payments until you finish your studies and access lower interest rates. In addition, physicians can often benefit from Public service loan remission if they meet the necessary criteria. While students can get private loans to pay for medical education, these tend to have higher rates and less flexible payment plans, which is why many students turn to loans first. federal.
In Caribbean medical schools, tuition fees can often be high. A graduate student from the American University of the Caribbean graduated with a debt of $ 415,000. Programs like St. George’s University can be just as expensive, with a price tag of $ 62,000 per year in tuition fees only.
To pay for their education, many students rely on federal student loans. However, only six Caribbean medical schools are approved to participate in the federal loan program:
- St George’s University School of Medicine (The Big Four)
- American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (Big Four)
- Ross University School of Medicine (the Big Four)
- American University of Antigua
- Medical University of the Americas
- St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine
However, you should contact each international medical school on your list to make sure that the medical program is eligible and can participate in the loan program. They must be accredited by the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFME).
3. Affiliated hospitals
A student’s clinical training while in medical school can play an important role during the residency matching process. According to a investigation by the American Medical Association (AMA), “personal knowledge and / or recommendation of the candidate” ranked # 1 in residency program directors.
For international medical schools, it is essential to look to their affiliated hospitals in the United States. Some Caribbean medical schools, such as Ross University, have circumvented this obstacle by paying cash for residency places. In 2012 Ross paid more than $ 35 million at Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, Calif., for residency placements for their third-year medical students.
In an interview with Moon Prep, Dr G. Richard Olds, the president of SGU, revealed that his school had a similar agreement with about 80 hospitals in the United States and Canada. He says it’s important because “if you want the doctors to work in a certain place, you should train them there.”
The residence match rate is closely linked to affiliated hospitals. According to the National Resident Matching Program, 61% of international medical school graduates matched to PGY-1 positions (first year of postgraduate) in 2020, which is the highest match rate for almost 30 years.
However, these numbers do not accurately reflect all Caribbean medical schools. Some schools will have a lower match rate, while others will have comparable rates in the United States. Regularly, 94% of U.S. medical school graduates pair with a residency program. For Ross University, this number is even slightly higher than the American rate, with 95.2% of its students corresponding for the first time to a program.
5. Level of student support and available opportunities
Medical school is an opportunity to gain research experience and clinical exposure as you approach more advanced courses. You want to make sure that you find a medical school that can support you on your journey while providing you with opportunities to develop as a healthcare professional.
According to Moon Prep’s interview with Dr Gaëlle Antoine, a graduate of SGU and a current resident in Anesthesiology at Brown University, St. George’s University offers endless research opportunities to students, provided they have the appropriate training and qualifications. She even took advantage of a six-week study abroad program in Europe to see how healthcare worked in a foreign country.
Find the right university for you
The medical school you choose may have an impact on your possibility of becoming a practicing physician in the United States. Be sure to consider these five things before making your choice to ensure you receive the best education and prepare for a successful medical career.