Caribbean medical schools often give students another chance of becoming a doctor in the United ... [+] States
Every year, thousands of students dream of getting into medical school. The chance to pursue this highly sought after career requires students to plan extensively for the application process. Unfortunately, there just arent enough spots to accommodate every applicant.
To put it in perspective, Stanford University was the most competitive undergraduate program in 2019, accepting just 4% of applicants. Stanford has a higher acceptance rate than the ten most competitive medical schools, which accepted an average of 2.5% of all applicants.
Out of the 53,371 applicants in 2019, just 21,869 matriculated into an allopathic medical school. That means roughly 60% of the students were rejected. Many of these students are highly qualified and competitive, but there arent enough seats for everyone.
As these rejected students weigh their options, they might wonder about medical schools outside of the U.S, specifically in the Caribbean. In general, the 80 Caribbean medical schools dont always have the best reputation, but they can provide an opportunity for U.S. students to study medicine.
Typically, these four Caribbean medical schools, known as The Big Four, have a reputation for being the best option for students who will ultimately return to the U.S. for their residency:
For some students, Caribbean medical schools offer a second chance to matriculate into a medical school. But before committing to four years of education, students must do their research first to understand the outcomes of their decision.
In medical school, the attrition rate is calculated by looking at how many students drop out of a program. Overall, six years after matriculating, the average attrition rate for allopathic U.S. medical schools was 4.1%, meaning roughly 96% of matriculating medical students graduated.
If you are considering an international medical school, one of the first things you should look at is the attrition rate. A rate of 50% or above is a major red flag, because a majority of their students leave the school without a degree. A school that wont share its attrition rate is likely hiding something. Many Caribbean medical schools are for-profit institutions, so financially, it is in their best interest to admit more students, without much concern if the students successfully graduate.
The Big Four tend to have a lower attrition rate than other Caribbean schools, but it is often still higher than U.S. medical schools. For example, Ross University reported that in July of 2017, 20% of the students who started in 2013 were no longer students at the university, 46% had graduated and 34% were still enrolled in the school.
Matching into a residency program is one of the biggest hurdles that medical students have to overcome, and it will dictate what type of medical specialty they will pursue. Starting in the fourth year, medical students send applications to hospitals that train in that particular specialty and interview for the position. The match system is extremely complex, with both the hospitals and the applicants ranking each other in order of desirability. Some programs are more selective about whom they will interview, with 68% of programs saying they seldom or never interview international medical graduates who are U.S. citizens.
In 2019, the Match Daywhen the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) releases the decisionswas the biggest ever. More than 38.373 applicants applied for 35,185 positions. For the students who dont match, they must try to match again after the initial process has ended. If they are unable to secure a spot, they will have to wait and reapply the following year.
For U.S. allopathic medical school graduates, 93.9% matched into a program. This number has been relatively consistent in recent years. The NRMP doesnt break the data down by specific country, but for all international medical school graduates, 59% matched into first-year positions (PGY-1). According to SGUthe second largest source of physicians in the U.S.93% of their 2017 eligible U.S. graduates had obtained a PGY-1 position. AUC had a similar match for its graduates at 91% in 2019. From 2013 to 2018, 94% of Saba Universitys graduates attained a residency.
While students from the Big Four are matching into U.S. residency programs, it is important to look at what type of programs they are matching into. For Caribbean medical school graduates, it can be challenging to get matched into some of the most competitive specialties. According to NRMP, in 2019 U.S. allopathic seniors filled more than 90% of the spots in the following specialties:
However, for students who want to pursue a different specialty, like internal or family medicine, a Caribbean medical school might be a good option. In 2020, the majority of graduates from SGU, AUC, Saba University and Ross University matched with an internal medicine or family medicine residency program.
According to NRMP, U.S. allopathic seniors filled less than 45% of the spots in the following specialties:
It Can Be Done!
While these statistics can be daunting, it is possible for international medical graduates to match into a highly-sought after residency program. Here are just a few examples of students who graduated from a Caribbean medical school and have matched into a competitive residency:
In the U.S., 143 allopathic medical colleges are accredited by the Liaison Committee of Medical Education and 38 osteopathic medical colleges are accredited by the American Osteopathic Association Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation. Graduating from any of these medical schools will allow you to practice medicine, perform surgery and prescribe drugs in all 50 states in the U.S.
For Caribbean schools, it is a little bit different. The Caribbean schools are unofficially ranked into three tiers (top, mid and bottom). The ranking has nothing to do with the quality of education youll receive or the likelihood youll match at a good institution. Instead, it is based on approvals and accreditations.
For students who are considering studying in the Caribbean, the accreditation of the institution is essential to consider if they are planning on practicing medicine in the U.S. The only Caribbean medical school you should consider should be top-tier and have an accreditation recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education/Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (WFME/FAIMER).
Some states, like California, Florida, New Jersey and New York, have stricter guidelines, and even if the college has an accreditation recognized by WFME/FAIMER, it might not be enough to practice in that state. For example, California keeps a list of foreign medical schools that have been approved by the Medical Board of California. The Big Four and a few other Caribbean medical schools are approved to practice in California, but the list is limited.
Before enrolling in any international medical school, it is essential to weigh your options carefully. Think about what type of doctor you want to be and where you want to practice medicine. The road to becoming a doctor is long, expensive, and arduous, and the choice of a medical school to get you there should be meticulously researched and planned.
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