Why Is It Hard to Get into Med School as an International Applicant?

Session 6

Applying to medical school as an international applicant can be a huge obstacle to overcome. But why is it so hard? That’s what we will cover in today’s show.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:25] Bias Toward Students Who Took Prereqs in the U.S.

Medical schools typically like to see that your prereqs are done at a U.S. school. That’s the first barrier to entry for international students.

But what if you’re an international student here already in the states and taking your undergrad at a U.S. school? You would still not be considered a U.S. student. The “international” status is based on your residency status, not necessarily where you did your undergrad. So even if you did your undergrad at a U.S. school, you’re still considered an international student.

Being an 'international student' is based on your residency status, not where you went to undergrad.Click To Tweet

[01:15] A Challenge in Translating the Transcript

As an international student, if you have your grades from overseas, are medical schools going to struggle to translate your transcripts into the U.S. system? This is just one of the potential obstacles.

There are lots of complicating factors that can come into play for international students applying to medical school in the U.S.Click To Tweet

[02:02] Public Med Schools Want Students Who Are Going to Stay

A lot of medical schools are public schools, which are typically supported by the state. The state wants to train citizens and residents of that state, so they hopefully stay in that state and practice in that state. They hope the students go on to contribute to the taxes and the economy of that state.

But an international student is not guaranteed to stay after their education. They may come to the states, get their undergrad degree and medical school education, and then they may go back home to whatever country they’re from to practice medicine with a U.S. education. A lot of international students want to stay here in the U.S. to practice medicine, but this is still something schools consider.

[Related episode: Should I Apply to an Out-of-State Medical School?]

[03:03]  International Students Can’t Get Federal Loans for Medical School

Medical school is expensive. Typically, students pay for medical school with federal student loans. Federal student loans are only eligible to permanent residents or citizens of the U.S.

International students do not qualify for federal loans.Click To Tweet

So when you’re applying to medical schools in the U.S., you need to prove to medical schools that you have the funds to pay for it. You need to prove that you’re not going to go and stiff the school with a big, fat bill for your tuition.

[03:58] Complications with Residency Training for International Students

Another big thing medical schools worry about is whether or not you’re going to go on and be a productive physician and get a residency slot after medical school.

The weird thing about medicine is that you can't practice medicine without doing postgraduate training.Click To Tweet

Lawyers can go out and practice law as soon as they graduate law school. Dentists can practice dentistry as soon as they graduate dental school. Doctors, however, can’t go out and practice medicine until they’ve done (depending on the state) at least one year of postgraduate training and typically three years of postgraduate training.

[04:52] Visa Issues for International Students After Medical School

International students need to be able to get work visas to be able to stay in the states post-graduation since they’re no longer on a student visa. They will need a work visa to stay in the states and practice medicine. Typically, the residency program they match at is the one that sponsors a visa.

I’ve seen plenty of horror stories from student residents who are stuck in whatever country they’re from. They can’t get back to the states to start their residency even though they’ve matched. There are visa issues that can come up, and now the hospital is losing man hours because the resident is stuck in another country due to visa issues.

Medical schools don't want their graduates to have issues with visas, but this is sometimes an issue for international students.Click To Tweet

With our current administration, there can be various visa issues. With Trump’s travel ban, a lot of physicians in those countries couldn’t get back here to do their residency training.

[06:42] Schools Want to Protect Their Stats

Schools want to be able to brag that they have great stats. They want their students to go and complete great residencies. And if you’re an international student graduate who now has an issue getting into a residency due to visa issues or whatever it is, it reflects poorly on the school, and they don’t want that.

[07:37] Canadian-Friendly U.S. Medical Schools

There are lots of issues when it comes to international students coming to the states. It’s not impossible, however.

Canada has the closest system to the U.S., education-wise and practice-wise. A lot of schools actually consider Canadian undergraduate citizens as U.S. citizens. They will look at you as a U.S. resident for purposes of acceptance. Obviously, it would be different for tuition purposes.

There are some schools that are very friendly to Canadians. Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) is one of them. I’m working with a student right now who’s in Canada. She’s gotten an interview at Michigan State University and another in Virginia.

There are schools that are Canadian friendly. They may not be international friendly overall, but they're Canadian friendly.Click To Tweet

So if you’re in Canada, you need to figure out which schools are Canadian friendly, which schools are international friendly, and which schools aren’t friendly to either. There’s a lot of work on your end to figure that out. It doesn’t mean you can’t get your education here in the U.S. It just means that there are more obstacles in your way.

[09:38] Getting in Through an MD/PhD

MD/PhD programs are typically easier for international students to get accepted to. But I wouldn’t recommend applying just because of that. You need to be interested in the MD/PhD path when it comes to applying and interviewing. It’s going to come out in your interviews whether or not it’s what you really want to do.

[10:19] Do Great!

Also, keep in mind that you need your stats to be as good as possible to make sure you’re competitive. You have to put yourself on another level compared to U.S. graduates. You really need to have top-notch stats to get in.

You need to have top-notch stats to get into med school as an international student.Click To Tweet

If you’re early in your premed journey, prioritize getting good grades. Get a good MCAT score, and get everything else you need for a nice application. Tell a great story in your personal statement and extracurriculars.

[Check out my Personal Statement Writing Course, which will help you tell your story to admissions committees!]

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