10 Questions to Ask When Applying to Caribbean Medical Schools
There are many factors to consider when choosing the Caribbean medical school that’s right for you. Every student values each of these differently and the process can be overwhelming. Here we’ve compiled 10 questions to help guide your research so you get the information you need to whittle down your list of schools to the best options.
- Is the school accredited?
Don’t be falsely assured by a long list of approvals and accreditations, instead look for the ones that actually matter:
- U.S. Department of Education (U.S. DOE)
Only students from schools approved by the U.S. DOE can complete clinical rotations, secure residency, and practice medicine in the United States.
- Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Health Professions (CAAM-HP)
If you graduate from an international medical school, you’ll need certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) to practice in the United States. As of 2023, the ECFMG will only recognize Caribbean medical schools with CAAM-HP accreditation. This means if you graduate from a school without it, you won’t be eligible for licensure in the U.S. and Canada.
- Is the school recognized by the Medical Board of California (MBC) and approved by New York State Education Department (NYSED)?
These allow Caribbean medical schools to offer clinical training in their respective states and the 30+ states that adhere to MBC recognition. Additionally, physicians must graduate from schools with MBC recognition or NYSED approval to be eligible to complete residency training or obtain licensure in California or New York.
American University of Antigua (AUA) College of Medicine has all of the above, in addition to approval by the Florida Department of Education, which further expands its network of clinical sites (see #7).
- Does the school have a loan program or offer financial guidance?
Between exams, lab reports, and late night library sessions, will you be able to stay on top of your financial obligations and deadlines? Look for a school that not only has financial aid or a loan program, but also provides financial guidance and consider that one less thing to worry about. AUA’s Student Financial Services offers advice and budgeting recommendations as well as personalized credit/debt counseling—even after you graduate.
- Does the school provide housing?
Medical school is stressful enough without worrying about finding and furnishing an apartment in a foreign country. Consider a school that takes care of housing, and while you’re at it, take a peek at student and campus life.
Does the school host social and academic clubs or organize intermural sports? What facilities outside of labs and lectures halls are on campus? Tennis courts, soccer fields? Think about what you like to do for fun and see if your school has it available.
Curriculum and USMLE Step 1
- How is the curriculum structured?
Medical schools in the U.S. and Caribbean cover the same material, so focus on where you can learn best. If you benefit from a lecture-heavy teaching style, look for a school that offers a more traditional curriculum. If hands-on experience helps you absorb new material and understand abstract concepts, you’ll want an integrated curriculum, which includes lecture and problem-based learning, but also emphasizes pre-clinical training.
- What is the USMLE Step 1 first-time pass rate?
The answer to this question is a huge testament to the quality of education provided by a medical school. Be wary of schools that don’t publicize their pass rate and only consider those with a 95% pass rate or higher. That said, a school that claims to have a 100% pass rate might be manipulating the data to claim the highest percentage. Be skeptical of schools listing an “overall” pass rate instead of a specific year. Most importantly, look for “first-time.” A pass rate is less indicative of the student body’s preparedness if it includes students retaking the exam multiple times to pass. AUA’s first-time pass rate as of October 2015 is 97%.
- Where do students complete their clinical training?
Caribbean medical schools have agreements with teaching hospitals and clinical sites to provide clinical training for their students—research how many and where these affiliations are. This is will give you an idea of the strength of the clinical sciences program. AUA currently has 35+ affiliates throughout the United States, Canada, and India. Additionally, through a clerkship certificate program established with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, qualified students are able to complete all clinical rotations at and receive official transcripts from a U.S. medical school.
- What percentage of 4th year students earn residency placements?
You shouldn’t discount a school that doesn’t release the number, though it is a helpful figure. Instead, evaluate the residency placements their students earn each match season, comparing which programs and disciplines students have placed into against your own goals. If you want to become a pediatrician, see how many graduates in the past few years earned pediatric residencies in programs you admire. Of the 2015 grads who were eligible to participate in the Match that year, 87% have, to date, secured a residency position. Graduates have placed in prestigious programs at Yale-New Haven, Brown University, the Mayo Clinic, Massachusetts General, Toronto University and many more.
Graduate Success and Alumni Support
- Where do graduates practice and in what specialty?
Spend some time reading a school’s graduate success page. Have graduates been published or started their own practices? If anyone in particular impresses you, contact the school to see if their graduate services department will put you in touch. You want to attend a school with alumni whose achievements you aspire to.
- Can you access the alumni network?
Not all Caribbean medical schools have an alumni network available to incoming or prospective students. Alumni can provide valuable information about their experiences as a student, offer general advice, and answer questions from a perspective the school can’t provide.
After finding the answers to the questions above, you’ll be able to weed out the unviable options, and be left with a list of established and respectable Caribbean medical schools that will prepare you for a successful career as a physician.