“Never judge a book by its cover.”
You’ve always been a firm believer in this phrase. The words have always reminded you to dig a little deeper instead of making hasty assumptions. Since you’ve been thinking about medical school for a while now, this tendency to analyze before deciding can prove useful for evaluating programs.
You are considering applying to medical schools in other countries, but you also have some initial concerns. You don’t want to find yourself using inadequate equipment or facing extra obstacles when applying for residency.
You might be surprised to hear many international medical schools will offer you an education equal to one you would receive at home. In fact, learning abroad has some additional perks you might not expect. Keep reading to learn about six surprising advantages to consider.
Benefits of going to an international medical school
1. You’ll see a wider variety of illnesses
Attending a medical school in a different country can help you become more familiar with the local health concerns, which may be significantly different from the ones you’re used to seeing. You can see some stark differences by browsing different country profiles on the World Health Organization’s website.
Becoming familiar with treating a wide variety of diseases can help prepare you for future endeavors as well, as Dr. Alicia Chilito, a St. George’s University (SGU) graduate who practices family medicine in Miami, Florida, can attest. She has volunteered for a number of medical missions, one of which brought her to Haiti to help address a cholera outbreak. “It’s wonderful to provide medical care for people who need it and are very appreciative,” Dr. Chilito says.
2. You’ll learn about different health care systems
Learning how patient services are covered under different health care systems can be really useful as you work toward a career in medicine. Dr. Pishoy Gouda, a resident physician at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, realized this firsthand while completing his studies in Ireland and England.
“I now have a unique insight into how different models of health care function — their advantages and disadvantages,” Dr. Gouda says.
You might find gaining experience in another country helps you look at health issues differently as well. “Working and learning in different health care systems gives you a unique perspective on conventional problems that we face in medicine,” Dr. Gouda explains.
"Working and learning in different health care systems gives you a unique perspective on conventional problems that we face in medicine."
3. You’ll learn to become more resilient
Some doctors who were initially hesitant about obtaining a medical degree from an international school now recognize the unique opportunity they were given. Dr. Buck Parker, a general and trauma surgeon at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, says going to medical school in Belize was the second chance he needed.
“When you’re following your dreams, you have to figure out any way possible to get there,” Dr. Parker says. “Sometimes it involves leaving the country for a few years, and that’s okay.”
If you’re willing to work hard, you don’t need to worry about limiting your career potential by attending an international medical school. “It’s important to note that while many competitive specialties are challenging for international graduates to match to, it isn’t impossible,” Dr. Gouda explains.
Dr. Parker agrees that international grads still have the option to specialize in competitive fields. “I have friends from Caribbean schools who are trauma surgeons, plastic surgeons, and pediatric anesthesiologists,” he says.
4. You’ll learn to appreciate things you take for granted
Depending on the country you choose to reside in for medical school, you may not have access to some of the comforts you’ve grown to expect. Dr. Parker says he learned to appreciate hot water, good transportation systems, and even having shoes while studying in Belize.
“In this respect, it changed my life and perspective on what is important and what is luxury,” he explains. “Ultimately, I believe it made me a better doctor.”
5. You’ll have more flexibility with your application submission
Any prospective student who has applied to programs using the Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS) or the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) knows the timelines are strict. Though individual schools can vary a bit, you have to make sure each of your applications are on track to hit major deadlines.
There’s often more flexibility with international medical schools, though. Many have rolling admissions and different commencement dates. Australian medical schools, for example, typically start classes in January or February. There are also programs that enroll more than one class per year.
6. You get to experience a different culture
Attending an international medical school provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to become acquainted with different cultures. Some of this is due to experiences outside the classroom, but you also stand to learn a lot about your fellow classmates.
“You learn to respect different people’s religions and different beliefs,” Dr. Chilito explains. “It was very rewarding to learn about these different points of view.”
"You learn to respect different people’s religions and different beliefs."
You likely won’t have much time for vacation before heading into residency, so attending medical school in a different country allows you an opportunity to travel and get exposed to a different culture without sacrificing your education.
Start your global journey
It’s safe to say there are some advantages to attending an international medical school. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in global health, are seeking a second chance at getting into a medical program, or just want to step outside your comfort zone, studying medicine abroad could be the perfect fit.
The next step toward becoming a medical student is narrowing down your list of programs and beginning the application process. As you work through this process, you should start thinking about how you’ll evaluate schools to make your final selection. Learn more about which criteria to weigh in our article “How to Choose a Medical School: 9 Things to Evaluate Before Accepting.”
Find out if medical school is right for you.Learn More