Is a Caribbean Medical School Right For You?

 

No one starts their pre-med career thinking they’ll go to a Caribbean school.  They just aren’t as good as US schools, and pre-meds - being the competitive people that they are - strive for better.  But just like a computer that’s a few years old is good enough for many people, an international medical school might be just fine for many pre-meds.  If becoming a doctor is the goal, then some international schools will allow you that opportunity.

Of course, it’s no guarantee.  While the average GPA’s and MCAT scores are considerably lower than domestic med schools, it can be more difficult to get a residency after graduation.  You need to know the basic pro’s and con’s of attending med school in the Caribbean so you can figure out if it’s a sensible choice for you.

Pros:

  • It’s easier to get in.  The average GPA and MCAT scores at the top Caribbean schools (Ross, St. George, AUC and SABA are all recognized by the medical board of California) are significantly lower than the averages for U.S. allopathic medical schools.
  • Admissions are rolling.  You can apply throughout the year and matriculate shortly after, unlike domestic schools where the admissions process takes over fourteen months.  This is helpful if you are waiting to hear back from domestic schools, and want to hold off on Caribbean applications until you know your situation.
  • The top Caribbean schools pay U.S. hospitals to take students for clinical rotations.  U.S. medical schools are not too pleased about this, but it does mean that you will be assured a spot in a U.S. hospital for your rotations, which you can then leverage into a residency position.
  • Caribbean medical schools have a U.S. style curriculum. The goal of students attending is to practice in the U.S., so Caribbean schools gear the classes to help you pass the USMLE.
  • You spend the first two years in the Caribbean and the second two in the U.S.  The Caribbean isn’t a bad place to spend two years, even if you’ll be in a classroom instead of on a beach.  Because the focus is to get you a job in the U.S., the last two years are located in U.S. hospitals.

Cons: 

  • Just because you got in, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a doctor.  The best schools - St. George’s, Ross, AUC, and SABA - have about a 75% placement rate in the US for their graduates (US allopathic schools have a 98% placement rate by comparison).  While most students get back to the US, many don’t.
  • If you didn’t do well on the MCAT, you may not pass your boards. Tests are a big part of becoming a doctor, so if your MCAT score wasn’t good enough to get you into a domestic medical school, you run the risk of not being able to pass the USMLE.  You may want to consider another career in healthcare that is less test dependent.  
  • Cost. Medical school is expensive and Caribbean schools are usually more expensive than domestic programs.
  • Your chances of getting into a competitive specialty are slim.  If you are focussed on primary care or family medicine over more competitive specialties (such as surgery or dermatology), you are going to have better luck finding a residency.
  • If you don’t get into an approved international school, you won’t be eligible for U.S. financial aid programs.  Private loans have higher interest rates than federally subsidized ones.  Some sneaky schools use domestic Masters programs with concurrent enrollment to get around this, but you probably don’t want to go to these schools. Check the here to see which schools are covered: https://studentaid.ed.gov
  • The stigma attached to Caribbean medical schools.  For many students, however, the stigma attached to attending an international school does matter.  You need to be able to tell friends, family, and peers with confidence why you chose to go Caribbean.

So here are the types of students who would be good fits at a Caribbean school:

  1. Students who do not shy away from competition.  Caribbean schools are competitive; their first-year drop out rate is high - often as high as 25% - to make sure that the students who can’t cut it leave before they waste too much money.  Also, because students know they’re competing for relatively few residency positions, they must beat out their peers to get the best grades they can.
  2. Students who are good test-takers.  Because Caribbean students are generally considered below US candidates, they need to have their test scores help set them apart.  The best predictor of USMLE success?  MCAT success.
  3. Students who screwed up during undergrad.  Maybe you didn’t know you wanted to be a doctor back then, or maybe you just weren’t terribly mature.  Whatever the cause of the low grades, if you are now stuck with a low GPA, you’re going to have a hard time getting into domestic med schools, so the Caribbean is a great place to prove that you can cut it.
  4. Students who are thinking about doing a post-bacc.  Post-bacc programs are expensive, with few guarantees.  If you’re going to spend a year (and thousands of dollars) trying to improve your GPA, why not spend that year and tuition on the path to becoming a physician?
  5. Students who like to travel.  Going to school in the Caribbean is adventurous, and moving every few months during rotations (usually up and down the East Coast) is a plus for the travel-minded.

So, if these qualities sound like you, you should strongly consider attending school in the Caribbean.