Welcome to the Caribbean! One of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.
Welcome to medical school! One of the most rigorous experiences in your life.
Two separate statements. When standing on their own, they are both true. When put together though, does the Caribbean make medical school a vacation?
There are currently 60 Caribbean medical schools that you can attend, as of 2011. One might think that this vastly increases your chance of being a doctor since there are only 137 M.D. and 26 D.O. medical schools in the U.S. You must understand that these schools are not all up to the standards of U.S. schools, although there are a few well known schools that have been graduating medical students for some time now, who are now successful physicians practicing all over the country.
Many of the Caribbean medical schools are for profit entities that chase the dollar. They have a history of accepting students that might not be the best candidates to enter medical school. The best candidates are applicants that the admissions committee thinks will be most likely to pass the USMLE® board exams.
Of the 60 current Caribbean medical schools, there are only a handful that are well known to most applicants. These include:
- Ross University
- St. George's University
- American University of the Caribbean
- Saba University
All but Saba have been around since the late 1970's. Saba is relatively knew to the game, having been established in 1994.
The accredited Caribbean medical schools have the same basic requirements as U.S. M.D. and D.O. medical schools:
- 8 Semester Hours (One Year)
- Inorganic (General) Chemistry
- General Biology or Zoology
- Organic Chemistry
How to Evaluate
When evaluating any medical school, you need to find the one that will best suit your needs so you can perform the best you can on the USMLE® Steps or COMLEX Levels exams. I have found that atmosphere can play a large roll in how much you submerse yourself into what you are studying. Have you ever sat in a cafeteria and tried to study? I have, and I mostly just people watched. If you don't think that you will be disciplined enough to stay away from the beaches while you are in the Caribbean, then maybe a medical school in the Caribbean is not for you. Likewise, if the lure of the big city is too tempting because you will explore every bar on every corner, maybe a school in the mid-west might suit you better. In the end, the only variable you can control is yourself. Whatever your surroundings are, you need to excel, and you need to do it quick. What about tangible variables to evaluate?
USMLE® Step 1 is one of the main determining factors in your residency application. Residency coordinators have a filter when they are accepting applications, and one of the first variables they filter by is the Step 1 score. Check out the following data on pass rates from the USMLE®:
- U.S. Allopathic Schools 1st Time Takers
- U.S. Osteopathic Schools 1st Time Takers
- Non-U.S./Canadian Schools 1st Time Takers
- 70% (OUCH)
The data clearly shows that U.S. medical schools, both D.O. and M.D., do better on the USMLE® Step 1 than Caribbean medical schools.
From the stats on pass rates of the USMLE® Step 1 above, you can see that the Caribbean medical schools trail the pack significantly. This is also the same for the NRMP® Match. According to the NRMP®, the Match rate for U.S. Citizens who are graduates of international medical schools is ONLY 50%. This compares to 94.1% for US graduates. Non-U.S. Citizens from international schools don't fare well either, with a Match rate of only 40.9%.
To help evaluate how well the school does in the Match, most of them will post their Match results. Saba University 2011 Match Results and Ross University 2011 Residency Appointment Lists are just a few examples of how well the students do in the Match against all other medical students.
There are Caribbean medical schools that send their students to the states to complete their clerkships during the 3rd and 4th years of medical school. This may sound great, but when you start looking at numbers, it might actually be detrimental. The Caribbean medical schools are known for LARGE class sizes with multiple semesters starting each year. Because of this, the clerkships tend to be a little over crowded with not a lot of quality personal time with attendings or residents. You will also want to confirm that the hospital you are doing your rotation at has a residency program for the rotation you are completing. This will afford you the best experience and teaching. If you are interviewing at a Caribbean medical school you need to be prepared to ask questions about clerkship opportunities and away elective opportunities. Most schools will not mind if you do a little extra work on the side to setup a different elective to help position yourself better for the Match.
The more well known Caribbean medical schools listed above are English speaking medical schools. That is not true for all Caribbean medical schools or other foreign medical schools. If you are fluent in a second language this might not be detrimental to you. If you speak a foreign language on an elementary level and know enough to get into a non-English medical school, you may be far behind the curve of students who are fluent. You will be trying to learn medicine and a language at the same time.
So What Do I Do?
In the end, the decision to go to a Caribbean medical school is already made for you. When discussing your future with an advisor, it might be easy to see that your MCAT® scores or GPA are just not competitive enough for a U.S. Medical School. DO NOT let that disappoint you. The one thing you can control throughout the process of medical school is how much effort you put into your studies every day. If you go to Harvard and slack off, your chances of getting into a top residency will be less than a Caribbean medical school graduate who studied hard and took advantage of every opportunity!
1. https://imed.faimer.org/ – Retrieved 10 Mar 2012
2. http://www.usmle.org/performance-data/default.aspx#2010_step-1 – Retrieved 09 Mar 2012
3. http://www.nrmp.org/data/resultsanddata2011.pdf – Retrieved 09 Mar 2012