When I tell people that I am going to the Caribbean for medical school, the most common response I get is how jealous they are that I will get to spend the next few years in a place as relaxing as a tropical paradise. While I don’t think medical school will be relaxing at all, I can’t deny that the Caribbean is a beautiful place to study, and warm all year round. If I get tired studying for hours and hours straight, I can just step outside and watch a beautiful sunset on the beach… how can I say no to that?
I can also learn a lot about myself and others by living in another country, studying with fellow students and faculty together in an academic environment. Experiencing what it’s like to be a guest in another’s country and adjusting to life in a different culture can make me into a stronger individual, and a more open-minded doctor, with a fascinating story to tell.
But most importantly, coming to the Caribbean is a chance for those of us like me who for whatever reason did not secure a spot in a US medical school, but still have lots of passion to pursue medicine and are committed to work hard to achieve our goals. For students who do not get into a US med school by April, Caribbean schools offer a chance to start med school in the fall without needing to wait another year to reapply. The application process is much faster than that of US med schools. For the schools I applied to in the Caribbean, I found out whether or not they wanted to give me an interview within two weeks of submitting my application, and whether or not I was accepted 1-2 weeks after the interview. For the American University of the Caribbean (AUC), I applied in the summer, and got in for the fall. As a post-bacc student who already has a degree, I cannot afford to wait another year.
Caribbean medical schools offer a chance for many people because they are generally less difficult to get into. In the U.S., it is not uncommon for a med school to have 11,000 applicants apply to fill 190 spots (New York Medical College 2008-09). This is due to the disproportionate high number of premed students in comparison to the low number of seats available in the United States. As there are three entering semesters per year at most Caribbean med schools, more spots are available to be filled at these schools. And as there are less American applicants who consider traveling abroad for med school, there is less competition for spots for applicants in these schools. In Spring 2009, 1,663 applicants competed for 422 seats at St. George’s University (SGU) School of Medicine on the island of Grenada. The admissions requirements are usually easier to fulfill for Caribbean schools. For example, at New York Medical College, matriculants have an average score of 30 MCAT and 3.5 GPA, whereas at SGU, it is 26 MCAT and 3.3 GPA.
However, there are many educational advantages at the top Caribbean medical schools (AUC, SGU, Ross, Saba). Unlike US medical schools where professors are obligated to put in time for their own research and medical practice, in Caribbean schools, professors are dedicated (and paid) to teach. That is their primary job. Because of this, they have much more time to prepare lectures and to help students.
The only concern I have for Americans considering applying to the Caribbean for medical schools is to make sure you do your research! There are around 30 offshore medical schools in the Caribbean and not all are accredited or able to produce graduates who can practice in all 50 states. In fact, the only four medical schools in the Caribbean that are considered by the United States Department of Education to be comparable to U.S. medical schools, approved for graduates to practice in all 50 states, and meet the rigorous requirements to offer U.S. federal financial aid are American University of the Caribbean (AUC), Ross University, Saba University, and St. George’s University (often referred to as the “Big 4”). Their students are therefore able to do anything U.S. medical students can do: receive U.S. federal loans, participate in the National Residency Matching Program, and be licensed in all 50 states. Check out my post about how Caribbean med schools get accredited!
When people think of the Caribbean, they normally would not think of med schools. But with a chance for personal development, faster application process, less competition for seating, the same great education and opportunities as their U.S. counterparts, and of course beautiful beaches, the top Caribbean medical schools give aspiring physicians like myself a great opportunity to pursue their dreams.