The Pros and Cons of Caribbean Medical Schools

In Education, Physician, Psychiatrist & Psychologist
February 14, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Caribbean Medical Schools

In 2015, there were 52,550 applicants to American medical schools according to the American Academy of Medical Colleges (AAMC). 20,630 enrolled.

This means that approximately 61% of applicants were not accepted to any medical schools, even though the average number of schools a typical student applies to is 14 (according to 2011 data from the AAMC). That often leaves prospective medical students in the position of asking “what’s next?” Another option for medical students is Caribbean medical schools.

What are Caribbean Medical Schools?

Caribbean medical schools, especially those categorized as offshore schools, are schools located in the Caribbean that exist primarily to train students from the United States and Canada who plan to ultimately match in a residency program and then practice in the US or Canada.

Most Caribbean programs are considered “dual-campus” programs, where the basic sciences component are completed in the Caribbean, while clinical rotations and clerkships are completed at hospitals in the United States.

There were 31 offshore medical schools in the Caribbean as of 2011. In this article, we will spotlight the four largest and most established of the list.

What are the Largest Caribbean Medical Schools?

  • George’s University School of Medicine
    • Location: Grenada
    • Average Match Rate: 91% obtained a post-grad position
    • Pass Rate for USMLE: 96%
    • Degrees Conferred: MD, MD/MSC, MD/MPH, medical PhD
    • Average MCAT: 26
    • Average GPA: 3.4
  • American University of the Caribbean
    • Location: St. Maarten
    • Average Match Rate: 86.4% obtained a first-time match
    • Pass Rate for USMLE: 93%
    • Degrees Conferred: MD
    • Average MCAT: 25
    • Average GPA: 3.3
  • Ross University School of Medicine
    • Location: Dominica
    • Average Match Rate: 99% attained a residency within two years of graduation; 86% first time residency match rate
    • Pass Rate for USMLE: 97%
    • Degrees Conferred: MD, DVM (veterinary school)
    • Average MCAT: 25
    • Average GPA: 3.22
  • Saba University School of Medicine
    • Location: Saba
    • Average Match Rate: Percentage not published, but they do publish a list of all residency appointments.
    • Pass Rate for USMLE: 99%
    • Degrees Conferred: MD
    • Average MCAT: not provided
    • Average GPA: not provided

What are some of the benefits of a Caribbean Medical School?

  • It’s easier to gain acceptance than it is in American medical schools. The average MCAT for American medical schools is about 31 in the old system, a little over 500 by the new scoring. Caribbean schools average a score of 25. They are also more permissive of “unique situations” like students who had previous careers or are entering the medical field later in life.
  • They have rolling admissions schedules. Most Caribbean medical schools have two or three admission periods, meaning you aren’t relegated to a single acceptance period each year. If you miss a deadline, another one will follow about three months later.
  • Clinical rotations are (often) in the United States. While your initial 4 semesters are on an island, the remainder of your rotations are often in the United States, so your tangible, practical experience is as an American student in American clinics and hospitals.
  • Students take the same exams. You are measured by the same exams at the same timing intervals as US students.
  • They have a higher degree of acceptance of unique situations. American medical schools are notoriously unsympathetic toward non-traditional situations like students who took a few years off school, whether it is to work, travel, pursue a religious vocation, military service, or even a primary career. Caribbean medical schools have a wide range of students from an even wider range of backgrounds, which can help out students in those non-traditional situations.
  • With a wide range of locations for clinical experience, you also receive a high degree of exposure to unique clinical situations. Oftentimes Caribbean medical students have to take clinical rotations in different locations which can allow them exposure to patients in urban areas, rural areas, high-income, and low-income neighborhoods. This enhances the medical experience and helps refine plans for residency and career beyond medical school.

What are some of the negatives or drawbacks of a Caribbean Medical School?

  • There is no guarantee of matriculation. Fundamentally, these schools have a high acceptance rate, which often results in a considerably lower matriculation and graduation rate.
  • There is an unquestionable stigma. While it is becoming somewhat more acceptable to be a Caribbean medical school graduate as fewer students are gaining acceptance to American medical schools, many residency programs and locations, particularly those in competitive fields or university level programs, do not accept or do not favor Caribbean graduates. With that said, if your goal is primary care, there are numerous programs for you. However, if you want to match in a field like surgery, dermatology or orthopedics, it is often considerably more difficult to achieve a residency position.
  • There is a high degree of competition for the residency match. Because of the stigma, many Caribbean medical school students feel that their test scores, GPA, and letters of recommendation have to be better, higher, and stronger than a similar student at an American medical school. The pressure to be that much better is high and it can often feel incredibly unfair, but as seen above, many of the Caribbean schools boast very high first-time and second-time residency match rates.
  • It is extremely difficult to transfer. Many Caribbean medical students start the process at a Caribbean school with the goal of transferring to an American school after completing the basic sciences; however, this is nearly impossible for most students. Most American medical schools do not have open positions for later years, and if they did, the stigma of a Caribbean school often stops the transfer process before it starts.

There are many reasons to consider a Caribbean medical school as an option for potential American medical students. The biggest piece of advice is to do your homework before applying.

According to the National Resident Matching Program, only 53% of United States citizens who attended foreign medical schools (most of which are in the Caribbean) matched with a residency program, compared with 94% of students from US schools.

Choosing an accredited program and reading the rules and guidelines, examining past years matches and specialties, and learning the ins-and-outs of the program is essential.

The quality of Caribbean schools varies widely so closely examine the programs to which you apply. However, there are many successful physicians who attended offshore schools who are actively practicing in the specialties and locations of their choice.

Want to learn more about the medical school process? Check out our Medical School Series:

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