Navigating the Premed Path as an International Student

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ADG 187: Navigating the Premed Path as an International Student

Session 187

Our premed today is alone in the states as an international student and she’s wondering what she needs to do to successfully navigate her way to medical school.

Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A is brought to you by Blueprint MCAT. Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

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[00:26] Question of the Day

“I came to the US to get my bachelor’s in biology and chemistry. I’m here on my own, with no parents here, and trying to find a way to get into med school. If you were born here in the U.S., if you want to get into med school, even if you’re a nontraditional student, I feel like your path is still easier compared to an international student who wants to be a nontraditional student. 

I’m a nontraditional student because I took a gap here, and I’m currently working. And, I’ve been through the thing where the premed advisor tells you that you cannot get into med school. And for international students, they would throw you any reason not to go into med school. Whether it’s expensive, your grades are not enough, and you cannot get into residencies and all this kind of stuff. And that’s really messed up.

And so, how do you navigate the naysayers out there?

[02:15] How to Handle Your Naysayers

Cover your ears and just ignore them. They are not the boss of you. They literally cannot dictate whether or not you get into medical school or not. They are just giving you the information based on their best information, and oftentimes, it’s flawed.

[02:49] The Common Dilemma of International Students

It’s true that it’s harder for an international student to get into medical school. For the schools that do accept international students, there’s usually not a lot. And if you do get into medical school, it is expensive because you’re not eligible for federal financial aid.

'There are very few schools that accept international students.”Click To Tweet

All of those things are true. And there are still plenty of international students getting into school every single year and going through medical school every single year. They’re paying for it every single year or getting scholarships every single year which is even better.

[04:04] Follow-Up Question

“COVID played hard on me because I was stuck here and cannot go back home. So the only way for me to stay here to take my MCAT and be able to keep my visa would be to stay here and work here. And that’s what I’ve been doing. 

I’m currently in a position where it’s full-time. I hear all these people say you can manage work. But it’s not easy. I don’t even know what a credit score is. What is that? 

It’s me making that dreamy word of mine, going to medical school, you’re doing all the good things that I’ve planned – and then reality hits you. You have to pay bills. To me, it was overwhelming, because I didn’t know how to deal with it until I got to college.

Something that I’ve been considering is the postbac. Is that a thing for me as an international student to be doing before medical school?”

[06:35] What You Need to Focus On

You’re trying to think of everything right now and it’s overwhelming. So what typically happens is you freeze, and you end up not making any decisions because there are too many decisions to make.

'The first decision that you need to make is the one that you should focus on.'Click To Tweet

The first decision that you need to make is, do you want to go to medical school here in the States? The next question you need to ask is, what do you need to do to get into medical school here in the States? How are your grades?

[07:36] Proving Academic Capability

Our student says she has an overall GPA of 3.0, and science GPA is 2.9. This is not good for medical school, so she needs to do a postbac. And that’s the next decision. 

“A postbac program helps prove to medical schools that you are academically able to do well in medical school, or at least it will give them the confidence that you are.”Click To Tweet

Grade-wise, that means you need to take more classes, and you need to go figure out how to do that. Whether it’s a formal postbac or informal postbac, maybe you can just take classes at a community college or a four-year university. That’s the next question for you.

Every other question right now is irrelevant. When to take the MCAT and how to study for the MCAT are all irrelevant.

First, you need to get, not necessarily your GPA up, but your trend up. You need to have a 4.0 GPA for several semesters to show that academic capability. That’s the first thing and the only thing you should be worried about right this minute, outside of adulting, paying bills, credit scores, keeping your visa, and all those things.

[09:35] Take Time for Self-Reflection

You have to do some self-reflection regarding why you struggled with your undergrad GPA in the first place. That’s important to know so you won’t end up making the same mistakes again once you’re doing your postbac and you won’t continue to struggle.

Only when you’re reassured that you know that you’re ready for this next step and you can get A’s would it be time for you to jump in and do it. Because if you keep taking more classes and you keep getting B’s, then you’re not doing what you need to be doing. You’re just wasting money at that point.

“It is so common for students to jump to the MCAT because it's such a big beast in this process without thinking about all the other things.”Click To Tweet

Again, in this student’s case, forget about the MCAT. Focus on the GPA first, or rather the trend. The story matters but your stats have to be good enough to give medical schools confidence that you’re going to do well. And a 3.0 GPA and 2.9 science GPA do not give them that confidence.

If you had a 3.1, but your last 40 credit hours were 4.0, then that potentially gives them competence.

[13:11] Medical School List for International Students

Unless you want to sit around until you can get a green card, you can’t control the fact that there are very few schools that accept international students. It’s just what it is.

So you have two options. Either you accept it for what it is, and do your best when you get to that point to apply and, and put together the best application possible. Or you don’t go to medical school in the U.S. and you try to come back here and practice later.

You may be a great candidate for a Caribbean school assuming you have enough confidence in your ability to do well in medical school. 

Look at the Big Four as it’s often called in Caribbean medical schools. Don’t just go to any random Caribbean medical school. Go to one that is going to require the MCAT. That way, you can get your feet wet taking the MCAT and see what it’s like to take an eight-hour test. And you’re going to need to do that in medical school.

'Understand that going to a Caribbean medical school makes you an international medical graduate, which makes applying for residencies that much harder.'Click To Tweet

Caribbean schools give you the benefit of letting you start medical school sooner, with the risks on the other side of matching into residency. Most people who don’t match into residency every year are international medical graduates.

[15:53] Why Is It Too Hard for International Students to Get Into Medical Schools?

There are enough U.S. graduates to fill a lot of spots and priority is given to them for the most part. There are always going to be stellar international medical graduates who make the cut and find a home.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of Caribbean schools that accept students who might not be doing well but still end up graduating and applying for the match. And so, regardless of where you go to school, whether you go to an Ivy League school or a Caribbean school, if you’re really a good student, then you’re really a good student.

There are plenty of students who go to Caribbean medical schools who have proven that they are very strong academically, but they struggle with the MCAT. 

And so, U.S. medical schools won’t give them the time of day because their MCAT score is not good enough. But they’re really good students. And then they just proved it in the Caribbean school, they come to the States matching residency because they are good students. They just struggled with the MCAT or something else.

[19:08] The Next Steps

Ultimately, the Caribbean could be an option for you. But the question is would the 3.0 GPA be enough to prove to yourself that you are really academically capable? So be careful should you decide to tread this path.

Or you could just take a postbac program first and get stellar grades so you can prove to yourself and to medical schools that you can handle the rigors of medical school.



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