All That Matters

I recently received a message from a reader who was contemplating between two choices of med schools and needed some insight about how I feel about coming to AUC. I thought this was a good question, so I’d like to share my answer. Here was his question:

If you had the opportunity to start AUC over again, would you?

It’s great to hear from you and I’m excited to see that your journey into medicine is going to start really soon!

If I had to opportunity to start AUC over again, I would do it again. Although coming to the Caribbean for my medical education wasn’t my original intention, my experience here has really changed my life for the better and in unexpected ways. I’ve not only gained much in my education and preparation for a life in medicine, but on a more personal level, I’ve learned what it is like to help and be helped in return, being a part of and actively continuing the supportive environment here.

Back in undergrad, I barely knew anyone and nobody really knew me. I was really shy and passive, and wasn’t active in any way on campus. I didn’t know how to express my voice (or know what to express) or make a difference in the community. But then after coming to AUC my life really has become a blessing. First, there was my blog, which over time gained a wide readership and garnered a lot of attention from my school, my fellow colleagues, and prospective students. I’ve suddenly become well-known on campus and among the school administration. Then I decided to run for class representative, which I served for two semesters, doing my job in getting some issues solved for my class and going beyond and creating The Scope, now officially the Student Government Association’s online newsletter and website. I became an anatomy TA and then later, a head anatomy TA, and made a difference in improving the learning resources in lab like co-creating a tutorial for VH Dissector and implemented radiograph catalogues, both of which have continued to be learning resources in the dry lab today. I then became an Orientation Advisor and helped update several of the help-packet documents OAs send their advisees. I was named Student of the Semester by the student body two semesters ago, and then I became the first SGA Historian in AUC history where I further improved The Scope to become a better resource for students and a better vehicle for communication among student leaders, organizations, and student body. I was also a part of the committee that helped draft the Social Media Policy for our school as well as served as a student representative to meet with candidate professors, school administrators, and premed advisors from colleges in the US a couple of times. I had the opportunity to volunteer in the community in medical ways, such as screening people for diabetes and HIV, as well as volunteer in non-medical ways, like environmental cleanup in the community.

Before coming to AUC, I never thought all of this would have ever happened. I didn’t even know I had the ability to do all this. It’s only been about a year and a half since I started med school and my experience has been very rich and fulfilling, and I think it was only possible because of the environment AUC is – small, tight-knit, involved student body, inspiring alumni, and supportive faculty. Living abroad infinitely makes the experience even more interesting and there’s so many life lessons that can be gained from living abroad.

And my story is just one of many here at AUC. There’s so many students here who have done so much to make both the AUC and the St. Maarten community a better place, and those who have achieved great honors academically. There was the student who organized a volunteer medical mission to Peru. She has long left the island but she has inspired another group to organize another medical mission to Bolivia this coming August break. Then, there was the student who started a free school breakfast program for local kids on the island who couldn’t afford eating breakfast. And then there was the student who started a free diabetes screening program on the island to help tackle the growing rate of diabetes in the community. There was the student who made a perfect score on the Anatomy Shelf Exam, the student who made a 97 on the NMBE comprehensive exam, and the student who made a 262 on the USMLE Step 1.  They are all an inspiration to all of us here, examples of excellence to strive for, and it makes me proud to be a part of this community that produces such bright future doctors with so much potential. Reading the stories in AUC Connections (the alumni magazine) about how an AUC alumnus pushed to start a free community clinic in the Gambia, or became the Medical Director of one of the top cardiovascular centers in the country, it shows many graduates here have fulfilled this potential.

Last year I volunteered at the graduation ceremony and was quite impressed at the residencies that many of our graduates have obtained, some going to top hospitals for their fields, and even some obtaining highly competitive residencies likes orthopedics and radiology. The next commencement ceremony is coming up this May and I’ll forward to seeing what our new graduates have achieved this year. Several of our guest professors who were visiting from other US medical schools (including some who are part of the admissions committees of their schools) have commended on the quality of our education and our students and said how we should all be proud of being here at AUC. We have some distinguished professors, some who have even been elected to serve national organizations like our neurology professor Dr. DeMesquita, being the only officer alongside other leaders from major US medical schools to be from a Caribbean medical school.

Before med school, I never thought coming to a school in the Caribbean could be something one could be proud of. Certainly many in the US may not think so. But experiencing everything I’ve experienced, I’ve come to realize that much of the negativity really stems from ignorance, just as how I was ignorant as a pre-med student before applying to medical schools. One just cannot ignore the fact that this school has turned students that were previously deemed “not good enough”, to become excellent physicians with test scores just as good, and often even better, than their counterparts in the US. And especially achieving all of this coming from a school with as little prestige as Caribbean schools, it’s very impressive and it makes me proud.

So in conclusion, It has been a real privilege to experience this journey here at AUC, together with my colleagues, many who I know will do great things in the future in their careers. Yes, there are students who may not have had as satisfying of an experience as I have, or others who decided the experience wasn’t for them. But for me, this experience has been a good one, and in the end, it really is about what you make of it. I just find for me personally, this good experience was a lot easier to achieve here at AUC.

So I hope you figure out what’s best for you. It really does vary from person to person, and there really comes a point when one cannot add any more points to a pros-and-cons list, which can go on and on endlessly, or come up with any more reasons to go to one place over another. In the end, all that matters isn’t necessarily which one has a longer list, but what do you want. For me, I wanted an opportunity to pursue my dream, a life-changing experience, and an exciting story to tell. Had I gone to a US med school, I may have fulfilled the first one, and possibly part of the second one. But for me, coming to AUC has fulfilled all three.

Good luck in everything and let me know how everything goes!


7 comments to All That Matters

  • Ashley

    Hi Benji!
    I just started reading your blog and I find it to be so informative and helpful. I see that you had a girlfriend back in the states and I was wondering how you dealt with the distance. I will be leaving my husband who will be studying at a university in California, and although we have done long distance in the past, I am not sure how this will work out. I have already been accepted to the 2012 class, however I am not sure how to cope with the distance. Do you have time to visit to the states during breaks, and come back home to see family? There will probably be more questions to come. Thank you so much for your help!

    • Benji

      Hi Ashley!
      I agree. Maintaining a long-distance is not easy, especially during med school when you’re always busy, and in another country, a few thousand miles away. There definitely have been difficult or frustrating times, but Irene and I love each other, trust each other, and work hard in keeping each other happy, even when we are both busy in school, and across the ocean from each other. We accept that there will be challenges, but we both know we are building a greater future together and that a few years of being apart is nothing compared to a lifetime together afterwards.

      I’m sure every couple has their own way to deal with distance, but for Irene and I, we reserve a few hours every night to see and talk to each other on Skype. I end my day everyday with Irene. Sometimes I call, or send text or picture messages to her randomly during the day and vice versa, and it just shortens the perception of distance between us, so we can both have a taste of each other’s daily lives.

      Irene’s my number one priority during every break we get between semesters. We always aim to do something fun or special, like take a vacation, or visit each other’s families. Sometimes during the school semester, I would even find a less-busy weekend to go visit Irene, like the weekend after block exams.

      It’s always good to get your loved one involved in your life. When Irene came to visit me, she met many of my friends and professors here at AUC. And even though she is currently far away, she still keeps in contact with many of them, and feels involved when I talk about my friends because she has met them before. Those friendship connections shorten the distance between our two lives.

      I think in many ways, Irene and I have strengthened our relationship over the semesters during this long-distance experience. We recently just got engaged. While distance may keep you physically far away from your loved one, don’t let it keep your lives and feelings far away as well.


  • J

    Hello Benji,

    I recently have been admitted to AUC, and as I make my transition for a new beginning in my medical career, I have been checking out your site on a daily basis, and reading up on what the school has to offer. I find your site very informative and extremely helpful, and while I have been admitted to other institutions, I am now definitely leaning towards AUC, in part due to your many testimonials about the school’s academics and overall experience.
    I have come to find out during my research on the institution that the school was recently acquired by DeVry Medical, and I have to ask how you feel about that. I admittedly have my apprehensions about this, as my knowledge (though I may be ignorant, so I apologize) of any institution that becomes “DeVry-ed” may have a tendency to become cookie-cutter, and possibly lose any credibility and reputation as to the quality of the education it offers. Again, I do see that the current faculty of AUC is definitely top notch, and the quality of education seems to be on-par with US schools; I am just curious as to your feelings on this.

    Like yourself, studying in the Caribbean was not my first option, and as a pre-med, I also had pre-conceived notions about taking part in such an experience. Although I am old enough to now realize that it’s about the quality of education moreso than name brand (as goes anything in life as you grow older and experience new things), I am still trying to explore all my options, and am being cautiously optimistic, while aiming for a place that will enrich me not only academically with respect to my career goals, but also on a personal, life-changing experience, one tht will make me an overall better individual, and hopefully, the best physician I can be.

    Please let me know what you think when you get the chance. Again, I applaud you for putting together such an informative and detailed site, and I do hope the rest of your clinical experience and education has been going well! Thanks again, and hope to hear from you soon.


    • Benji

      Hi J,
      Thanks for visiting my blog. When we students first got the news that DeVry is taking over the school’s ownership, we too had our concerns, especially about increases in class size, loss of AUC community culture and identity, and increase in tuition. However, in the past year that DeVry has taken over, we see them investing a lot in our school. They have broke ground on a new building, improved the security around campus, updated the facilities (recently they replaced all the chairs in the lecture halls), and to facilitate studying with the noise on campus from the construction, they bought every student Bose noise-cancelling headphones after talks with the student government. So it seems like they are listening to the students. It’s still hard to say what the future will be like with the new owners, but from what I see so far, it seems that this new relationship with DeVry is good for AUC. If brand name is a concern, I’m sure most people you talk to won’t be aware of the DeVry ownership when they hear of AUC.
      Best of luck!

  • Derek C.

    To touch on what Ashley was saying above, I think this may be a fairly common situation with students at AUC. For instance, I was accepted into the spring class of 2015, and I will be away from my wife who will be starting her career in Florida as a women’s health nurse practitioner. I don’t expect this to be easy for either one of us, but we both feel like it is an opportunity that will change our lives forever.

    Benji, I have read your entire blog, and I can’t be more thankful of the information that you have painstakingly made available to the general community. It was your testimony alone that inspired me, a 29 year old medical technologist, to take then next step and decide to further my career. One day, I would like to at least buy you a cup of coffee…

    • Jessica


      I just wanted to say Hi. I as well have been accepted into the spring class of 2015 and I am so excited about all of the new people I am going to meet.

    • Benji

      Hi Derek,

      It is definitely a very common situation at AUC. For Irene and I, the distance made us try harder to make things work, and this definitely made our relationship stronger. The moments we have together became more precious. At the same time, the distance also made us stronger individuals who could trust each other without the need for each other’s presence. Communication is key.

      Thanks for reading my blog and congratulations on your acceptance to AUC. I wish you and your wife all the best in this new step forward.


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