Should You… Attend a Caribbean Medical School?

Caribbean island

Your life as a pre-med is fraught with big decisions, from when and how you should prep for the MCAT, to what you’ll highlight in your personal statement, to which medical schools you’ll apply to. At every turn, your choices can affect… the rest of your life!

Narrowing down your list of schools, and the average pre-med already applies to an average of 14 medical schools, can be difficult. You’ll want a good mix of reach, target, and safety schools. Applicants will typically also include their state school, or reciprocal state school for those living in areas without a state medical school to that list.

Even with 144 AAMC medical schools in the United States, and 17 medical faculties in Canada, the acceptance rate for medical school applicants hovers between 40-43% each year. This leaves more than half of all applicants out in the cold, their dreams of being a doctor on hold. While there are multiple steps you can take if you’re not accepted to medical school in your first year applying, you can also apply strategically, including to Caribbean medical schools.

Deciding to apply to, and attend a Caribbean medical school is a big decision, and one you shouldn’t undertake without taking all the facts into account, as well as consulting with your pre-medical advisor, or other academic mentors. If you make the decision to apply to a Caribbean medical school, here are five criteria you should keep top-of-mind when selecting a program.

  1. Accreditations, approvals, and recognitions

As a medical student, you won’t just want a great education while you’re in school, you’ll also want rotation opportunities at stateside teaching hospitals, as well as a reasonable expectation of matching to an American or Canadian hospital for your desired residency position. These two important considerations mean that a Caribbean school’s recognition, approval, and accreditation is of paramount importance to you and your future as an MD.

You’ll want to look for, at the very minimum: approval from the New York State Education Department, recognition from the Medical Board of California, and accreditation from Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP). Very few Caribbean medical schools achieve these approvals, and you should be very weary of any school that doesn’t have them. You risk graduating with a very expensive MD degree and no residency spot.

  1. Test scores and residency matching

The MCAT is not the last future-defining test you’ll have to take. In fact, as a medical student, you’ll be taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE,) a three-step examination for medical licensure in the United States. Your passing performance on all three steps is absolutely necessary in order to obtain an unrestricted license to practice medicine in  the U.S. You’ll want to look at each school’s USMLE passing rates on the USMLE Step 1, which is typically taken after the first two years of medical school. High passage rates indicate a rigorous curriculum and students’ thorough grasp of basic science concepts as they relate to the practice of medicine.

After that, you’ll want to look at each school’s match rates for residency spots, both during the match period, and the ensuing “scramble” period. Pay particular attention to the types of residencies you may be interested in, such as OB-GYN, surgery, urology, etc. Should you want to enter a competitive specialty, those match rates become more important. 

When you speak to schools, look for those with a positive track record in matching students, and for admissions personnel to be open and honest about your prospects. 

  1. Don’t apply as a last resort

Applying to a Caribbean medical school shouldn’t be a desperate Hail Mary, it should be approached as thoughtfully as your application to any other medical school. Apply because you believe that you will succeed. Due to the highly competitive nature of medical school admission, tens of thousands of bright, talented, medical school hopefuls do not get accepted to MD programs each year. Many of these are eminently qualified, even more, are qualified but have a GPA or MCAT score that are not reflective of their academic ability, or their future ability as a physician.

If you believe you’re at your academic peak, and you don’t want to wait another year or two for admission, then consider applying to a Caribbean school. With their holistic approach to candidate evaluation, your application will get reviewed beyond test scores to assess your potential. And, while you may not love the MCAT, think carefully before applying to schools that don’t require an MCAT score for admission.

  1. Take tuition into account

Tuition at Caribbean medical school can be on par or more expensive than even the priciest private medical schools in the U.S. Couple that with possible lower-than-average match rates, and your tuition-only costs could run at more than $240,000 for a degree you may not be able to use. Some Caribbean schools are eligible for U.S. Federal loan support, which will help you alleviate some of the tuition burden, but again, you’ll need to do your own due-diligence to see whether this is a worthwhile investment or not.

  1. The living is easy?

Sure, the brochures look like Caribbean schools are an island paradise strewn with quaint academic buildings, but the reality of living in the Caribbean may not be as idyllic as you imagine. If you’re able, visit the school and tour the facilities, and talk to current students. Some schools will have state-of-the-art class space, while others… not so much. Don’t be swayed by the sunshine and palm trees. 

Are Caribbean medical schools part of your application strategy? What would you most like to know about this option? Send us your questions and we’ll answer them in a future blog.