Planning ahead has always been your MO. You come up with a full itinerary for every vacation and always manage to have birthday presents for friends wrapped weeks in advance. It’s not that you’re rigid — you just know the value of being prepared.
Going to medical school has been on your mind for quite a while, so you’ve been putting your planning skills to good use through meticulous research. You’ve seen how competitive programs have become and are starting to consider Caribbean medical universities. Some of these programs sound like they could be promising options, but others have given you cause for concern.
And you’re not alone. But it’s important to know that not all Caribbean medical universities are created equal.
“There are a lot of swirling rumors,” says Joseph Franza, associate director of admissions for St. George’s University (SGU). He helped us unearth answers to some of the most common questions on the topic. Keep reading to learn what you should know about Caribbean medical universities and whether one could be the right fit for you.
8 Commonly asked questions about Caribbean medical universities
1. Which programs are located at accredited Caribbean medical schools?
While there are dozens of Caribbean medical schools out there, only a small number of them hold the accreditation status you need to seek residency and medical licensure in the US. You must be certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) in order to participate in the National Resident Matching Program, the most common path to residency, if you graduate from a Caribbean program.
Certification requirements include passing certain exams as well as obtaining your medical degree from a program that meets all the ECFMG’s requirements, which you can verify through The World Directory of Medical Schools. It’s even more important to note that beginning in 2023, the ECFMG will only grant certification to you if you attended a school accredited by an agency that has been approved by the World Federation of Medical Education.
2. Are there specific Caribbean medical school requirements?
Applying to international medical schools is inevitably different than applying to ones in the US. You may find yourself wondering what to expect. “A lot of people ask about the timeline of the application process,” Franza says. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, so be sure to look into individual programs. SGU, for example, offers rolling admission and admits one class in the fall and one in the winter each year.
"A lot of people ask about the timeline of the application process."
As far as academic requirements, Franza mentions students like to know what’s expected of them. He says prospective students often ask, “Where do your average applicants rank in regard to GPA, science GPA, and MCAT score?” It’s a smart question to ask individual programs, because you’ll find it can vary significantly. You’d be wise to have some concerns about unusually low GPA standards.
3. How can I ensure I’m looking at the best Caribbean medical schools?
Asking programs about average applicants is a good start toward making sure you’re evaluating quality medical schools. But don’t end your investigation there. You should also inquire about residency match rates and the number of students typically passing the USMLE exams.
“I always encourage people to ask schools about those percentages moving forward to make sure they’re well versed in whatever schools they’re considering,” Franza explains.
"I always encourage people to ask schools about those percentages moving forward."
Start by perusing the school’s website. Some of them list residency appointments and exam performance prominently, but you might also have to contact the admissions department for the exact information you’re seeking.
4. How much does going to a Caribbean medical school cost?
The cost question will inevitably come up as you get closer to determining which schools are worth considering. Tuition can vary, but there’s no way to get around the fact that a good medical education is going to be a substantial investment.
“I like to say it’s a steep cost, but it’s worth it in the end,” Franza says. He also suggests you compare the cost of programs in the Caribbean to the cost of out-of-state medical school tuition in the US. Don’t be surprised if they’re relatively similar.
5. Do Caribbean medical universities accept US federal loans?
The options for financing your education are probably even more important than the tuition cost. “It’s important that you have federal funding,” Franza says. “A lot of people ask about the federal loans.” Why choose a less expensive school if there’s no feasible way to pay for it?
"It’s important that you have federal funding."
You can do some of this research yourself. Federal Student Aid lists the international schools that are recognized by US federal student loan programs. This lineup will give you a general idea, but you should still check with the medical program. In some cases, a university’s medical school may not be eligible. Lastly, be sure to look into available scholarships and grants.
6. Is the campus safe?
“Safety is usually a Caribbean medical school question,” Franza says. Part of this concern has to do with rumors people hear about crime in Caribbean countries. Some areas see more incidents than others, but you can easily find specifics using the information provided by the US State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management.
It's also worth comparing Grenada to some locations that might be more familiar to you. You should know information about crime in Grenada is likely similar to your hometown. Just look at recent data from New York City, and Seattle, Washington, if you need further evidence.
Weather makes up the other half of the safety question, because hurricanes have caused considerable damage in some Caribbean countries. You should look into the specific geographic location of each school. Franza feels lucky that he’s able to tell students SGU is located outside the hurricane belt, the area in the Atlantic Ocean most likely to see these storms.
“Even though we’re not in the line of fire, we have tremendous facilities that are built for Category-5 hurricanes just in case."
You should also peruse school websites to see whether they’re prepared for emergency situations. “Even though we’re not in the line of fire, we have tremendous facilities that are built for Category-5 hurricanes just in case,” Franza adds.
7. Will I be able to make it back to my home state to practice medicine?
If you’re from an area where there’s a lot of competition for residency and physician positions, you might be a little worried about your chances of being able to return home. Franza says this is something he often hears from students located in California.
Taking a closer look at a program’s residency match information can be helpful in answering this question. You’ll want to analyze not only the number of placements and the different specialties students matched into, but also the states where students go for their training. You’ll soon have a good idea of which locations are feasible for you to pursue come time for residency matching.
8. Will I be treated differently during a US residency if I went to a Caribbean medical university?
You might be a little self-conscious standing side-by-side with US grads when starting residency. If you had initial concerns about attending a Caribbean medical university, it’s natural to think your residency director might have similar worries. “That’s something that comes up quite often and our graduates always jump right on that and say everyone’s handled the same way,” Franza explains.
"Our graduates always jump right on that and say everyone’s handled the same way."
As long as you do your research and choose a program that will fully prepare you for the rigors of medical practice, you should feel confident you’ll be afforded the same opportunities as your fellow residents.
Take a closer look
You can see there’s a lot more to Caribbean medical universities than the myths you read about in online forums. Your next step should be taking the time to look critically at universities that provide encouraging answers to the above questions.
As you continue to research individual medical schools, you’ll need to start making regular contact with admissions offices to learn whether different programs meet your needs and interests. Make sure you’re prepared for these conversations by reading our article, “8 Questions You Should Be Asking the Medical School Admissions Team.”
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