Hello all, I received a message from a prospective student asking me to elaborate on the reasons for my decisions to attend AUC as opposed to SGU or Ross, the top three off-shore med schools in the Caribbean. The student is deciding between Ross and AUC and wanted to know what other factors she should consider to help make her decision. I’d like to share with everyone my answer:
It really all does boil down to personal preference, since whichever school you choose, you can be confident that you’ll get a good education. All three schools are recognized by NCFMEA as being on par with US med schools in terms of accreditation, and have the educational and administrative standards high enough to qualify for US federal student loans. They all have facilities like anatomy lab, computer labs with virtual imaging software, Sim Man, Harvey Cardiac simulator, computer-based testing, access to Up-To-Date and other electronic medical resources, group-learning facilities, etc. They all have very high USMLE first time pass rates, comparable with US med schools, showing they all prepare you well for the USMLE. Although these fields are competitive, both for US med students and Caribbean med students alike, Ross, SGU, and AUC all have histories of matching students into Anesthesiology, Surgery, Pathology, and Radiology year after year.
I chose AUC because of the smaller class size, MUCH more developed island (which is very important considering I’ll be living nearly 2 years of my life here), and closer-knit school community, and so far I’m very happy with my decision. I’m quite impressed by the support we get from professors and fellow students alike. I’m also impressed by how everything at AUC is so student-driven, from school-wide events, to community service initiatives, to even the hiring of new faculty (which the school encourages students to actively evaluate).
Besides the basics, additional questions not often asked but important to consider are:
What is the structure of the curriculum?
In terms of curriculum, AUC, Ross, and SGU will all teach you the standard material needed for a strong foundation in medicine. However, their approach is different. AUC has a traditional discipline-based curriculum to teaching medicine, meaning you’ll take classes like Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Pharmacology, etc. You’ll learn about the different organ systems within each discipline, like when you take physiology, you learn about renal physiology, GI physiology, cardiovascular physiology, etc.
Ross University has a system-based curriculum, with classes based on organ systems, so you’ll take classes like Digestive System, Renal System, or Cardiovascular System. You’ll learn about the different disciplines within each organ system-based class, like when you take the Digestive System class, you learn about the histology, physiology, pharmacology, pathology of the digestive system.
SGU’s curriculum is similar to AUC’s in that it is discipline-based. However, their classes focus a lot on cases, and so students attend small group discussions on clinical cases in addition to their class lectures for many, if not most, of their classes.
How many exams do you have per semester?
This can be a very important determinant on how well you can manage your grades. For example, at SGU, a student’s final grade in a class is dependent mainly on two exams: the midterm and the final exam. Classes may have short quizzes as well, but these typically don’t count nearly as much as the two exams. Having two main exams that determine your grade can make students very stressed as they have longer semesters and more material to cover for each exam. At AUC, in contrast, classes typically have 4 exams each, followed by a comprehensive final exam. As AUC is based on a trimester system, the semesters are shorter and the amount of material you need to study for exams are much more manageable. At Ross, classes typically have 3 exams (or “minis” as they call them at Ross) each, plus a comprehensive final exam for the class. There are also anatomy and histology practical exams at all three schools, which may or may not count as “part of” the main exams.
At Ross, SGU, and AUC, exam questions are all USMLE-style, and so taking more exams means not only more ways to “prove yourself” in a class but also more practice for the USMLE.
Also of note are NBME exams, created by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the same organization that sponsors the USMLE. These exams are taken by students at US med schools and scored nationally, and are excellent ways to gauge your academic progress on the national level, not to mention great practice opportunities for the USMLE. Students at AUC, Ross, and SGU all take the NBME Comprehensive Exam at the end of Basic Sciences as well as the NBME Clinical Subject Exams during clinical rotations. However during Basic Sciences, Ross University does not offer any of the NBME Subject Exams (at least during the time of this writing), whereas SGU offers NBME Subject Exam in pathophysiology, and AUC offers students all of the NBME Subject Exams. If you decide to AUC, I highly recommend taking full advantage in taking these NBME shelf exams, as it is rare for a Caribbean school to even offer them.
How is the anatomy lab run?
Anatomy is a very important class and the knowledge you gain will help you in future classes, and so it is important to learn it well, and the best way to learn it is from real cadavers. I would contact the school to find out how much contact you have with the cadavers. Do you have the opportunity to dissect, or are they already dissected for you? How many students are there per cadaver? How much lab time do you have? Are there ample TAs in the lab that will aid you in your learning process? In 2010, a friend of mine from SGU told me that at SGU, there are 15 cadavers shared between the nearly 400 students in his class. At AUC, however, there were 18 bodies (19 if you include the TA demonstration body) for 208 students, giving students much more contact with the cadavers. At SGU, all the bodies were already prosected (pre-dissected), whereas at AUC, students personally perform the dissections. To me, this made anatomy a much more enriching experience as I connected with my “first patient.” At SGU, students are required to go into anatomy lab 2 times a week, 30 minutes each (but labs are open after hours as well). At AUC, students go into lab usually 4 times a week (and sometimes 5, depending on the week), 2 hours each time. At AUC, the lab is also open after hours for self study. I’m not sure how the labs are run at Ross, but again, it’s worth finding out.
Is there a safety net?
Although we all hope that we will succeed in our medical studies, we need to know if there’s some sort of safety net in case academics don’t work out as we wanted. It’s not something easy to think about but it is important. One policy to consider is what does the school do if you fail classes. At Ross, if you fail a class, you’ll have to retake the entire semester as well as take an additional class on study skills, even if you excelled the other classes. This is not so at AUC where you just retake the one class you didn’t do well in and try again. At SGU, if you fail a class that has less than 4 credit hours, you’ll be asked to take a make-up exam. If you fail a class that has more than 4 credit hours, you automatically get dismissed from the school.
AUC, SGU, Ross, and Saba all have different grading scales. A passing grade at AUC is a 70%. At Ross, the passing grade varies between 55-65%, depending on how the rest of the class does for an exam. At SGU, although passing grade is a 70%, you will be put on academic probation if you have a cumulative average of 73%. Saba has the highest passing grade, at 75%. Any grade below 75% is considered failure.
The rules for dismissal are also different at each school. At AUC, you may fail up to 17 credit hours before getting asked to leave. After this, students have the opportunity to appeal in front of a committee consisting of faculty and honor students who will decide whether or not to allow the student to stay. At SGU, on the other hand, you will be dismissed after failing a 4 credit course, or two courses that are less than 4 credits each. At Ross, you will be dismissed after repeating a semester twice.
How do students end up doing on the USMLE?
What matters at the end of the Basic Sciences portion of medical school is whether or not students pass the USMLE Step 1, and AUC, Ross, and SGU all have high first-time pass rates, on par with those found at US allopathic medical schools. The pass rates at each school changes year-to-year, but from my personal observation over the last few years, they all hover around the same range. AUC’s USMLE Step 1 first time pass rate in 2012 was 96%, while SGU’s was 97%, and Ross’ was 96%. In comparison, the USMLE Step 1 first time pass rate at US/Canadian schools in 2012 was 96%, while for DO schools it was 92%, and for overall international medical schools it was 76%. For more about Step I scores, check out this post.
So in conclusion, there are lots to consider. Knowing successful graduates from all three schools, I don’t believe there are any one school among the three that is better than the other. They all provide students opportunities to become physicians, and whichever one you choose boils down to personal preference. It’s important to read multiple students’ experiences, since everyone may give a different perspective. Feel free to check out the blog links I have at http://www.caribbeanmedstudent.com/other-blogs . I’ve put asterisks by my recommendations.
Good luck everyone!