Aspiring to become a doctor is a noble venture, but what if you are one of the many that did not qualify for the Medical Schools to which you applied? Fortunately for individuals determined enough to make it, another viable option is choosing a Medical School in one of the many Caribbean Islands. However, extensive research should be undertaken in order to find a school that will get you to where you need to go.
Some of the criteria to look for are the academics of the program, the number and quality of the residency placements of graduating students, and the cost of tuition. A good place to start is the prospective medical schools’ websites, attending workshops and seminars the schools may organize, contacting alumni, and perusing through the many forums available relating to Caribbean Medical Schools. Here are a couple of additional suggestions that everyone should consider before taking that leap of faith.
Caribbean Medical Schools often boast about their high USMLE Step 1 (United States Medical Licensing Examination) pass-rates and how they are comparable to American Medical Schools. The main reason the pass-rate is so high is because Caribbean Medical Schools have now integrated a Comprehensive National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) exam into their programs. This test is taken at the end of the Basic Sciences portion spent on the island, and it assesses the knowledge amassed by the graduating students. Only the students that get past this bottleneck are allowed to write the Step 1. At face value, this concept may not seem all that great, but in the grand scheme of things, it is much better having to rewrite the Comprehensive Exam as opposed rushing to write the Step 1 without being fully prepared for it. Not doing well on Step 1 will surely make it difficult to match in any Residency when the time comes. Therefore, schools set a benchmark that everyone must reach in order to be eligible to write Step 1; this definitely increases the chances for success.
Additionally, being an IMG (International Medical Graduate) puts you at a bit of a disadvantage when applying for Residency. According to 2015 statistics posted by the NRMP, 53.1% of US citizen IMGs matched successfully (this is the highest rate since 2005)1. Moreover, only 49.4% of applicants managed to match as non-US IMGs1. This means that in order to land a residency on the first attempt, you must achieve as high a score as possible on the USMLE Step Exams and manage to impress your Resident and Attending Physicians during Clinical Rotations.
The schools do their part in preparing students for life after the island, but it is up to each person to make sure he or she learns as much as possible in order to maximize the chances of success. Prospective students have to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses before committing so much time, energy, and money.
That being said, I have now spent over a year in a Caribbean Medical School (Medical University of the Americas, Nevis), and it has been quite an adventure. The professors and my fellow students will have a lasting impact on me. I have learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses; it has been a truly unique experience. Being thrust upon a tropical island, where you are not vacationing, with people you have never met before can be a bit of a shock to your system. However, it is exciting to meet new people from all over the US and Canada, each with his or her own unique story to tell and unique path traversed to get here. Being immersed in the Caribbean culture and learning about the local traditions, history, and cuisine is also an enjoyable and enriching part of the journey.
At the end of the day, the Caribbean Medical Schools give you a chance at realizing your dream of becoming a doctor. It is truly a one-of-a-kind place to study; free of distractions and with ideal weather year round, it is absolutely conducive to studying. However, you have to be on the grind day in and day out if you want to achieve your goal. Once you know what you are up against, you can dissect the situations and competently make the necessary adjustments to overcome the challenges you may face. Yes, it is not an easy undertaking, but everything in this world that is truly worth doing requires dedication and hard work.
- NRMP (National Resident Matching Program). “Results and Data 2015 Main Residency Match”. The Match – National Resident Matching Program. April, 2015. Web. Retrieved 28 Jan. 2016. <http://www.nrmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Main-Match-Results-and-Data-2015_final.pdf>.