Caribbean medical schools have become a popular option for students facing fierce competition to secure the few spots available in and the US. But, is attending one a good idea? What are the pros and cons of attending a medical school in the Caribbean?
In this blog, you will learn whether Caribbean medical schools are worth considering, what their admissions criteria is, and whether you should choose to attend one.
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Caribbean medical schools are becoming increasingly popular for Canadian and US students who want to continue their dream of becoming a doctor despite admissions setbacks. There are certainly many success stories out there. One talented OB/GYN with a specialty in pelvic pain went to medical school in the Caribbean, and completed his Obstetrics & Gynecology residency at the University of Toronto. He is a success story for a Caribbean medical school and for all international medical schools aiming to appeal to aspiring US and Canadian medical students. But for every doctor like him, there are several more who do not get into their or do not manage to do so at their university of choice. There are out there of people spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and many years of their life at a foreign medical school with no residency spot, and nothing to show for it. The fact is, it is inherently riskier to train outside of Canada or the US if you want to practice in these two countries. Yet, this could be a risk worth taking. Read on to know more about this topic so you can judge for yourself.
We have a series of posts that explore common questions around medical schools in non-traditional locations, such as the Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand, as well as and other locales outside of North America. Getting into medical school in North America, and especially Canada, is difficult. Getting into medical schools in other locations is typically easier in terms of admissions requirements and there are more spots available. So it might be tempting to take the leap towards a medical degree outside of your native land.
There are more than 60 medical schools in the Caribbean catering to mostly US students. The general features of each of these schools are available on their respective websites, and there are dozens of Caribbean medical schools to choose from. All of them have different affiliations in the US and Canada, and different . Most Caribbean medical schools offer admission cycles three times a year, in the months of Jan/Feb, May and Aug/Sept.
The most notable Caribbean medical schools are St. George’s University School of Medicine, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, Saba University School of Medicine and Ross University School of Medicine. These schools are called the “Big Four” of Caribbean medical schools. They are the most promising in terms of residency placements and chance of matching graduates to the US or Canada.
Check out a recap of the best Caribbean medical schools in our video:
Looking at the above statistics, it’s clear that it is in fact easier to get into a Caribbean medical school. That doesn’t necessarily mean they offer low quality education – Caribbean medical schools are, for the most part, looking for smart people with the desire to help communities be healthier. Since getting into medical school in North America is so competitive, there are a lot of people who don’t make the cut but who would be great doctors. Caribbean medical schools are experts at finding these people because the admission requirements are quite straightforward.
There are no cut-offs and or MCAT score requirements are low. The admissions criteria are intentionally vague so that they can fill up their classes and earn money. This is central to the mission of a for-profit medical school.
If you go to a Caribbean medical school, there will be people in your class who did not perform well academically as undergraduates. This doesn’t mean they won’t be good doctors, but there is a greater chance they will not succeed. For this reason, dropout rates at Caribbean medical schools are high. We aren’t sure if the students that aren’t doing well drop out or if it’s another group. Either way, when the admissions criteria are lower and competitiveness is limited, the pool of candidates will be of lower quality.
Even though YOU might be an extraordinary medical student, your peers may not be. This might impact your future residency. Every time you show up on a new medical floor to report for duty, the reputation of the medical students from your school precedes you. This is true for North American medical schools too, but the effect seems more powerful for Caribbean-trained doctors. If the last medical student from Saba or Ross was weak, your preceptors and the nurses will be skeptical of you. You will have more to prove.
For the most part, yes. They are legitimately trying to train and place doctors. Especially with respect to the top four schools in listed above, they have a decent record of US-focused clinical placements for trainees and successful placement of residents.
Caribbean medical schools, like many US universities, are for-profit institutions and consumers should have a “Buyer Beware” attitude when exploring them. The top schools are typically accredited by US licensing boards and the ruling government. For example, Saba University School of Medicine is located in Saba, which is an island in the Dutch Caribbean, administered by The Netherlands.
Caribbean medical schools have large marketing budgets designed to persuade undergraduate and high school students that this is their best option, even if they haven’t faced by a Canadian or US medical school. Therefore, they will tell you everything you want to hear about how great they are. They’re not going to lie to you, per se. But they may overemphasize their ability to find clinical placements in the US or Canada during clerkship and to help you match to the residency program and location of your choice. In fact, in a previous pilot survey of , Caribbean-trained Canadian medical students reported that just over 40 percent were not intending to return to Canada for residency. The most common reason for this was that the students didn’t want to do a Return of Service (ROS) but the second most common reason was that students didn’t think they would get a residency of their choice. And remember, a residency choice includes a specialty and a location. For some students, location is the deal breaker and for others, it’s the specialty.
If you are considering a Caribbean medical school, you should check their accreditation status. Many schools in the Caribbean are actually not accredited.
If the school claims to be accredited, find out if the accreditor is recognized by an international authority, such as one of the following:
For instance, the WFME only grants recognition status to accrediting agencies that have very high standards, which is something you would want from your medical school.
In fact, if you are entering medical school soon, and your school of choice is not accredited by a WFME-recognized institution, you won’t be able to secure clinical rotations in the US in the future. As per the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, a medical school's accrediting agency must be WFME-recognized for future students and graduates to be certified by the commission.
You should also check if the medical school you’re applying to gives you the eligibility to eventually practice in the location of your choice. For example, some US states like New York and California have their own list of recognized medical schools and only graduates of these schools can practice medicine there.
Compared to costs, tuition at Caribbean medical schools is cheaper (but still more expensive than Canadian schools). It ranges from around $4,000 per semester for the lesser-known schools to around $20,000 for the big four.
Most of the best Caribbean schools are eligible for US federal student loans and also for Canadian bank student lines of credit. For example, all the big four schools listed above are part of the . A lot of Caribbean medical school applicants will require financing and there are a few available at the discretion of the school.
To be a good candidate for the in the US and Canada, most of your clerkship placements and electives need to be done in the US or Canada. Schools with good connections make this happen. However, even these placements do not guarantee your ideal residency. Each school has guidance on clinical placements on their website and even more detail is shared over the first few Basic Science semesters.
Each of the Caribbean med schools has affiliated US hospitals and clinical centers. As more and more Caribbean-trained medical graduates finish residencies and establish careers in the US and Canada, there are more clinical placement opportunities for current students.
The graduates of most Caribbean schools are eligible for participation in the U.S. National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) using and the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS). In the CaRMS match, foreign-trained and foreign-born medical school graduates participate in the second round of the match where there are fewer spots in fewer specialties.
The exact match rates and absolute numbers for Caribbean medical students are not available, but the fact is they are less successful in matching residents than non-Caribbean school students.
Remember that the most popular medical schools in the Caribbean can all be classified as “off shore”, which means most of their graduates are from North America and intend to return to the US or Canada to practice medicine. There are also a few “regional” medical schools that are meant for people who want to practice medicine in the same country. If you’re opting for a lesser-known Caribbean medical school, ensure that it’s not a regional one, else your only options for residency will be in the Caribbean.
Tips to help you get a residency spot of your choice
Here are some tips to maximize your chances of getting a residency spot in the US or Canada after Caribbean medical school:
If you go to medical school in the Caribbean, you are not guaranteed a residency spot in the US or Canada. The chances are better for the US but quite unfavorable for Canada. In addition, Canada has seen a few controversies over second-round residency spots being held for well-connected foreign-trained graduates, such as when the son of the Head of Cardiac Surgery at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver landed a coveted spot in his father’s program. Click to read more about this story.
If you don’t care to return to Canada or the US for residency and you can afford the Caribbean, then go for it. You will likely land a residency spot elsewhere and there are many nations in which post-graduate medical education is stellar, if under-respected. Go to one of the top schools though, so you can at least spend some time training in the US during medical school.
1. What are the advantages of applying to Caribbean medical schools?
Most Caribbean medical schools have relaxed admissions requirements that attract students rejected by medical schools in the US and Canada. Since these are for-profit organizations, they seek to fill their classes with students, even if their GPA and other undergraduate accomplishments are not top-notch.
Another reason, of course, is the ocean and the sunny beaches near the schools.
2. Which are the best Caribbean medical schools?
There are more than 60 medical schools in the Caribbean, unofficially ranked in three tiers (top, mid and bottom) depending on their accreditation status and recognition. The top ranked are:
1. St. George’s University on the island of Grenada in the British West Indies
2. Ross University on the island of Dominica
3. American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine on St. Maarten
4. Saba University School of Medicine on the island of Saba
3. If I attend a Caribbean medical school, will I be able to become a US doctor? Will I obtain a residency?
Many successful US doctors received their degrees from Caribbean medical schools, as attested by their testimonies in a few online publications. However, some graduates from these schools have experienced issues when trying to obtain a residency spot in the US due to the preference given to graduates from American medical schools.
In fact, students who graduate from US medical schools but are not American citizens have a higher chance of getting a residency spot in the US than US citizens who graduate from non-US medical schools.
Your chances to match in the US and Canada depend on whether you choose the most competitive or least competitive residencies as well as the location of the residency programs of your choice. Students from the big four Caribbean medical schools can practice in all 50 states of the US, but others may have more restrictions. You should check the eligibility for MDs from your prospective med school.
It’s important to note that just because a med school is recognized by the medical board of an area, it doesn’t mean the residency programs there will accept those candidates. The most competitive, elite residency programs simply don’t consider any Caribbean medical school graduates at all.
4. What is the quality of education of Caribbean medical schools?
Many Caribbean medical schools have poor USMLE pass rates, low residency match rates and high attrition rates when compared to US medical schools. There is some debate as to whether this is due to the quality of the education or the quality of the applicants they accept. Additionally, Caribbean medical schools, with their easy admissions policies, often have large classrooms with over 500 students per class. Some also provide very limited support to students. For example, you may have to arrange your own rotations. However, these things don’t necessarily add up to a bad quality education. In the end, your education is up to you and the hard work you put into it.
5. How much do Caribbean medical schools cost?
Compared to US medical schools, tuition at Caribbean medical schools is cheaper (but still more expensive than Canadian schools), from around $4,000 per semester for the lesser-known schools to around $20,000 for the big four.
6. Should I apply to a Caribbean medical school?
If your intent is to practice medicine in North America, we recommend that you first apply to US and Canadian schools. If you are a Canadian applicant looking to apply to US, make sure to check out which are the Canadian-friendly US medical schools.
7. If I attend a medical school in Caribbean, am I considered an international medical graduate when I apply to residency in US and Canada?
Yes, you will be. In Canada, you must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to participate in CARMS. In US, they do not look at your citizenship, but prefer graduates from American schools. Check out the latest stats from to see how well are doing.
8. What is the minimum MCAT score required for Caribbean medical schools?
Many Caribbean schools do even require applicants to submit their MCAT scores! Even the ones that do, don’t have any specific MCAT score cut-off. They work on a for-profit model and let in as many students as possible, including those with lower MCAT scores or GPAs. The average MCAT score of students attending Caribbean med schools is around 497 – much lower than North American universities.
9. What should I do to increase my chances of matching if I graduate from a Caribbean medical school?
Focus on the following:
- Medical experience in US and Canada
- Letters of reference from a US or Canada physician
- Stellar USMLE scores
- Remarkable clinical and research experience
- Unforgettable residency personal statement