CARIBBEAN MEDICAL SCHOOLS – ARE THEY THE RIGHT CHOICE?

by / Wednesday, 28 September 2011 / Published in USMLE Advice

A good percentage of all students who come to our live Step 1 course or who are currently enrolled in one of our USMLE self-study or tutoring programs have attended off-shore medical schools, namely from the Caribbean.  It made me realize that it was about time I put together a look at all the positives and negatives about attending a foreign medical school; whether it be in another country altogether or in the Caribbean.

The first thing you have to realize about Caribbean school’s is that they are in fact much easier to get into than medical schools in Canada or the United States.  Where Canadian and U.S schools often take only the best and the brightest with top GPA’s, the Caribbean is much more lenient when it comes to GPA and past scholastic achievement.  The second thing to realize, if you are considering an off-shore medical school, is that they are in no way, shape, or form a free ride to an M.D.  In fact, as someone who has been to a Caribbean school and done well, I can assure you that it is no easy feat.  And when I compared schedules and required study hours with some of my friends at U.S. and Canadian medical schools, I assure you the good Caribbean schools are working us equally as hard, if not harder!

So as long as you are considering a Caribbean school because your dream is to become a Physician and you would do anything to make it a reality, then you will likely enjoy the ride and do quite well.

With that said, here is a list of what I believe to be the top benefits and drawbacks to off-shore medical schools…

BENEFITS:

 

1.  They are an opportunity for anybody who truly wants to become a Physician to take a stab at it

If your dream has always been to become a doctor but you simply weren’t the best student, then an off-shore medical school will give you one final chance to see if you can make your dream a reality.  There are many amazing people out there who would make fantastic Doctors, but whose scholastic achievements would otherwise prevent them from becoming so in their own home country.  Luckily, these schools allow most students with decent GPA’s to get in and prove that they do in fact have what it takes to make it.

2.  They are often a 2nd chance for otherwise fantastic students who have made a mistake or two along their undergraduate journey

My school was loaded with top-quality students and people, all of whom I asked why they were attending a Caribbean school and not a U.S based medical school.  They all had a similar story… ‘Partied too much in 1st semester and could never bounce back from it’, ‘Failed a single Physics class where the whole class average was 59%’, or ‘Went through a tough family event and my GPA was tarnished’.  There are so many stories like this where would be A-students were victims of either freedom or unplanned life-events.  Either way, most students who attend off-shore medical schools are extremely intelligent individuals who somewhere along the lines had a hiccup in life and as a result ruined their GPA.  One bad grade is often times enough to blacklist you from medical school… For these students, off-shore medical schools are their 2nd chance at an amazing career in medicine.

3.  Attending medical school in a new country is a wonderful and scary (but great) life experience

I’ll be the first to admit on my first day away from home I was scared, and especially in ‘culture-shock’.  Being thrown into a new country with a new way of life is scary, but once you embrace it (which most students do), then it suddenly becomes one of the greatest and most rewarding life adventures you will ever experience.

 

DRAWBACKS:

 

1.  The STIGMA of an off-shore medical school

Probably the biggest drawback of the off-shore medical schools is the stigma that goes along with them.  The fact they are are much easier to get into automatically makes people think you are less qualified or are less intelligent than the average medical student in the U.S or Canada.  I can surely say that this is far from the truth however, as the system is going to weed out the weak students and allow the stronger ones to survive and make it through.  That’s the beauty of the off-shore schools; they give you a second chance at becoming a physician, but only if you truly have what it takes.  So if the stigma is deterring you from attending, don’t let that stop you, because at the end of the day your patients aren’t going to care where you went to school, they’ll care that you can help them.

2.  The quality of education outside of the top off-shore schools is less than optimal

I hate to say it, but it is true that some of these schools are built purely from a business point of view and do not have the student’s best interest at heart.  The schools that pop up overnight and charge a much lower tuition are often those with less-than-stellar faculty as well.  I am not saying this about anyone in particular, I am speaking out of actually seeing a pattern of students from certain schools who have simply not been exposed to the material that the typical medical curriculum will cover.  With that said, even if the instruction is sub-par, with extra hard work there’s no reason why anybody cannot succeed and still pass all of the USMLE’s.

3.  Graduation rates are often low

When you get into medical school in the U.S and Canada, it is pretty hard for you to fail out.  The reason is because they only take students who have a fantastic scholastic aptitude and who are most likely to make it through.  While on the other hand off-shore schools are known to be more lenient with admission criteria, which automatically means they are going to let students in who are less likely to graduate.  That is just the nature of how these schools work, but it is definitely an indicator of quality because a school with tougher admission criteria plus excellent instructors is most likely to have a higher graduation rate over a school with minimal admission criteria and sub-par curriculums that don’t mimic those in the U.S and Canada.

4.  The cost is equally as high due to unplanned travel expenses

This one I had to find out the hard way!  Sure, tuition might be a bit lower than your traditional U.S. medical school, but as a general observation the schools who have been around for longer and who have great track-records are on par with the cost of the average U.S. institution.  On top of the cost to attend, it can become very pricey very quickly when you are traveling from the West Coast of the U.S or Canada all the way to the far Eastern side of the Caribbean.  You can expect to tack on a couple thousand per semester if you plan to travel home in between semesters, which is something most students will desperately want to do!  This pretty much eliminates the ‘savings’ you would have otherwise gained from attending an off-shore school.

 

ALL-IN-ALL

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All-in-all, I would say that off-shore medical schools are a dream come true for those students who have a burning desire to become physicians and who are willing to work hard to make their dreams come true.  On the other hand, for someone who is going to one of these schools assuming it is an easy round-about way to get an M.D, they will be sadly mistaken.

If you want to become a doctor but for some reason don’t have the GPA to get into a U.S. or Canadian medical school, then an off-shore medical school is most likely the answer for you.  And if you are driven to succeed, then the far-off travel and the extra costs will be well worth it for you in the end.

 

Feel free to add some benefits or drawbacks that you can think of in the comments section!

Dr. Paul

 

One Response to “CARIBBEAN MEDICAL SCHOOLS – ARE THEY THE RIGHT CHOICE?”

  1. gabby evans says : Reply

    You have some good points about the pluses and minuses of choosing on of the Caribbean Medical Schools. I’m attending UMHS St. Kitts and I have found that the benefits far outweigh any negatives. As for the expense, they have great advice to help you plan for everything, as well as information on getting loans– which is another great benefit. I loved the information they had on residency and licensure, as well as how well they prepare you for it.

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