The Truth About Caribbean Medical Schools: Debunking the Myths


02.05.2021

Many of the misconceptions about Caribbean medical schools are based on little more than a few opinions. You’ll soon see that you can absolutely attend a quality MD program located in this island region.

“I know many foreign-trained physicians who are excellent doctors,” says Dr. Barbara Bergin, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics — Sports & Rehabilitation Associates.

Myth # 1: Caribbean medical schools don’t allow you to specialize

“As you move from one school to the next, whether it’s in the US or otherwise, you’ll find the vast majority of students go into primary care, because there are more residency slots,” says Colin Dowe, associate dean of admissions at  St. George’s University (SGU). In 2020, SGU graduates matched into 20 specialties. While most secured residencies in primary care specialties such as family medicine and emergency medicine, students also matched into anesthesiology, surgery, and other specialties.

Read more: SGU Grads Excelling in the Most Competitive Specialties

Consider Dr. Njambi Mathenge. She is a cardiology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, which is a Harvard Medical School affiliate.

A proud SGU alumni, Dr. Mathenge is an example of how a Caribbean medical school can provide the opportunity for students to create their own success.

Myth # 2: Caribbean med school classes are too big for you to learn anything

It’s not unusual for a medical school in the Caribbean to have more than 500 students per class. This sounds a little worrisome when you hear graduates talk about the importance of individual attention. But getting enough instruction is as much about faculty size and the way the program is designed as it is the number of students.

“You are lectured to in a large classroom—that’s a fact,” Dowe says. “But when you are actually learning—in the labs, or in small groups—you are in groups of eight.” Since this type of small group work will vary from one program to the next, you should ask admissions advisors about how material is presented. You’d also be wise to look into what support services are available to help ensure your academic success.

"I think the proof is in the pudding."

Dowe adds that a true measure of the effectiveness of a particular learning environment is the students’ academic performance. A school’s results for the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) Step 1 and the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) Part 1 are universal gauges for this. “I think the proof is in the pudding,” Dowe says.

Find out how students from different schools fare on these exams, then weigh their performance against the corresponding test data from the US or Canada. Note that while both exams have a threshold students need to meet to pass, the USMLE Step 1 will be moving toward a new reporting system that’s only pass/fail.

Your path to Residency starts at St. George’s University. Are You In?

Myth # 3: Caribbean medical schools will accept anyone

Some Caribbean schools have rightly earned the reputation as being too accommodating for unqualified applicants, but others are much more selective. “We spend a whole lot of time doing a holistic appraisal of applicants,” Dowe explains.

"We spend a whole lot of time doing a holistic appraisal of applicants."

It’s up to you to make sure you carefully evaluate criteria like admission requirements at schools you are considering. Examine average MCAT scores and GPA for accepted students to make sure you are choosing a reputable Caribbean med school that will provide you with a good education.

Myth # 4: Caribbean medical schools will take your money and abandon you

Medical school is an undeniably large investment, regardless of institution. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reports the average cost of attending public institutions for the 2020 – 2021 school year is $41,438 for in-state students and $58,246 for out-of-state students. Caribbean schools are often near the higher end of this spectrum, but also consider some prestigious US programs are already more than $90,000 per year.

You’ll want to look beyond the price tag as well. Graduates who successfully attain residency and begin practicing medicine will be able to successfully pay off their loans. Dowe says a good way to see if graduates are flourishing or floundering is to take a look at loan default rates. You can find some of these results by searching for specific schools on the Federal Student Aid website.

What about feeling abandoned? It really depends on the school, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“As you explore, chat with the students about the level of support that’s provided on campus and get a sense of the utilization rate of those support services ,” Dowe recommends.

Myth # 5: A huge portion of students drop out of Caribbean medical schools

You may have heard Caribbean medical schools have dismal completion rates. While that may be true in some cases, quality programs tell a much different story. SGU's first-year attrition rate usually hovers around 6%.

If you have any trouble finding this information on your own, reach out to schools directly.

Myth # 6: You’ll never match for a residency if you go to a Caribbean medical school

The idea that you have to attend medical school in your home country in order to practice there isn’t based on fact. The US is a perfect example. The American Medical Association (AMA) reports international medical graduates account for more than 25 percent of US physicians.

Many international medical graduates end up completing residencies in the US, and plenty of them graduated from a Caribbean school. This isn’t to say securing a residency is easy. You have to do well on the appropriate test, but Dr. Bergin a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedics— Sports & Rehabilitation Associates says those who study hard and pass will likely have no trouble in getting placed.

Seize your opportunity

As you can see, many of the negative words you hear about the best Caribbean medical schools are simply myths based on very little substance. In fact, some of these programs have advantages over schools closer to home.

“You'll have an amazing foreign cultural experience that you will never get if you do your training here [in the US] and then start your practice,” Dr. Bergin explains. “There will never be an opportunity like that again.”

If a culturally enriching experience is something you value in a program, SGU is a Caribbean medical school that should be on your radar. To learn more about what else you can expect, check out “10 Things That Might Surprise You About the SGU School of Medicine.”

* This article was originally published in February 2018. It’s since been updated to reflect information relevant to 2021.

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