Caribbean Medical Schools: The Truths and The Myths Debunked
With recent changes in U.S. medical school programs and significant shortages of doctors projected within the next 10 years, there’s a lot being said about Caribbean medical schools. Unfortunately, not all the information out there is accurate, and this misinformation often leads to a negative stigma surrounding Caribbean med schools. To help students discern fact from fiction, we’re going behind the scenes to debunk the myths and highlight the truths about Caribbean medical schools.
Myth: The education at a Caribbean medical school isn’t as good as the education at a U.S. medical school.
Truth: Our first myth is one of the most common myths about Caribbean medical programs, but it’s not accurate. While some Caribbean medical schools do have low pass rates and poor-quality programs, the same can be said of some United States medical schools. For Caribbean schools that invest in their students, staff, and facilities, the education is on par with similar medical programs in the U.S. In fact, accredited Caribbean programs use the same training materials, follow the same curriculum, and teach to the same standards as U.S. programs. Graduates from Caribbean med schools attend for the same 4 years, and they even graduate with the same Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree as graduates from a United States medical school.
Myth: You can’t get financial aid at a Caribbean medical school.
Truth: Many people mistakenly believe this myth because some unaccredited schools in the Caribbean will not offer scholarships or government-based financial aid for their programs. However, like our last myth, what may be true at a few locations is not true at all Caribbean medical schools. In order to participate in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, which is the largest grantor of student loans in the United States, a school must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. This approval process is designed to weed out low quality education programs and ensure that students receiving loans have a reasonable expectation of securing a job after graduation that will enable them to repay the loans.
The top tier Caribbean medical schools will also offer scholarships and other financial aid, such as military benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To offer military based funding through the VA, such as the GI Bill, a school must again complete an approval process to verify the quality of their program. As long as a medical school completes these necessary steps, they can offer student loans and other government assistance programs to incoming students.
Myth: Caribbean medical schools aren’t competitive.
Truth: Caribbean medical schools have received a lot of bad publicity for accepting students with lower GPA and MCAT scores than those typically accepted by U.S. medical schools. While it is true that the average GPA and MCAT scores at Caribbean med schools are lower, that doesn’t mean the schools will accept anyone willing to write a tuition check. U.S. medical schools overwhelmingly rank GPA and MCAT scores as the top considerations when accepting applicants, while Caribbean medical schools have traditionally taken a more holistic approach to medical school applicant evaluations, including previous experience, demonstrated work ethic, and other factors into their evaluation process.
Medical school is a rigorous and competitive process, and a Caribbean school of medicine will want students who can meet the challenge. That’s why many top Caribbean schools value more than just standardized test scores and will give an opportunity to high quality students who would be easily passed over in the U.S. medical school system.
Myth: You can’t complete residency if you attend a Caribbean medical school.
Truth: Like many other aspects of medical school, applying for residency is a competitive process. There are a limited number of residency spots available to a large number of incoming med school graduates. While it is true that a higher percentage of U.S. graduates are matched into residency programs, thousands of students from reputable Caribbean medical schools get matched into U.S. residency programs each year. Things are also looking up for students with strong academic portfolios – with the impending nationwide physician shortage in the US, residency programs are accepting more graduates from international medical schools than in years past.
If you’re considering an international medical school, find one with strong U.S. clinical affiliations. For example, AUA offers clinical rotations at over 40 highly respected partner schools in the US, Canada, and India. These clinical rotations will not only give students great experience, but they will also help them get connections that can be extremely beneficial during the residency matching process.
Myth: You can’t specialize in a Caribbean medical school program.
Truth: Internal medicine, general medicine, and primary care medicine are three of the most common paths students choose in residency. This is due, at least in part, to a larger number of residency spots available, making these positions less competitive than other, more niche specialties. While choosing not to specialize can make it easier for medical school graduates to land a residency spot, this doesn’t preclude students from choosing to specialize.
Since much of the work for a particular medical specialty isn’t completed until residency, students attending Caribbean medical schools are absolutely still able to specialize in any field. Competitive specialties, such as cardiology, plastic surgery, or orthopedic medicine, are still open and available to Caribbean medical students with high test scores and demonstrable skills. Caribbean students wanting to specialize must meet the same rigorous requirements as their U.S. counterparts, so they should prepare a top-quality application package in order to land a coveted residency spot.
Myth: Even after graduating and completing residency, doctors who graduated from Caribbean medical schools won’t be able to find work in the U.S.
Truth: This myth couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, recently research from the American Immigration Council shows that nearly 25% of all doctors practicing in the United States obtained a degree from an international medical school. This research shows that foreign-trained doctors are an integral part of the American medical system, especially in rural or underserved communities. While high-profile hospitals in popular urban communities will always be more competitive, even for graduates of U.S. medical schools, fully licensed doctors are in high demand in many communities across the United States.
Myth: Caribbean medical programs aren’t accredited.
Truth: This myth is likely rooted in the messy process that is med school accreditation. There are multiple accrediting bodies that oversee schools in different geographic locations and different types of programs. Even in the United States, there are multiple accrediting bodies that operate at different levels and evaluate a myriad of academic programs.
In the Caribbean, the most respected accrediting agencies are the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP) and the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM). While there are other agencies that will grant accreditations to schools in the Caribbean, these two agencies are the only ones recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME). If your target Caribbean med school holds one of these two accreditations, it’s a high mark of quality and an assurance that your degree will be valuable long after you graduate.
Myth: If you want to practice medicine in the U.S., you are required to attend a U.S. medical school.
Truth: Like the medical school accreditation process, physician licensing is unnecessarily complicated. Doctors are licensed by the state medical board in the state where they desire to practice medicine. If they move or want to practice in multiple states, they are required to get multiple licenses. Because of this complicated process, many people mistakenly believe that the licensure requirements stipulate graduation from a U.S. medical school. Since top-tier Caribbean medical schools have clinical affiliations with teaching hospitals in the U.S., medical students attending international schools in the Caribbean can complete their clinical rotations, and ultimately their residency, and be adequately prepared to pass any U.S. state licensing exam.
Caribbean Medical Schools: The Truth
As you can see from these 8 myths busted, Caribbean medical schools can offer high quality programs and provide a viable route to becoming a physician for many aspiring medical students. Much of the stigma surrounding these schools is caused by an abundance of misinformation and a lack of due diligence in researching quality medical schools.
Not all medical programs are created equally, so if you are considering attending medical school, it’s important to look for programs that provide significant financial and educational support to students, are highly accredited, and have national connections within the medical community. All of these things are available through Caribbean medical school programs, and you can start your search by exploring the community here at AUA.