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4 Things You Should Know About Caribbean Medical Schools

January 20th, 2011

From Aruba to Trinidad, the tourism trade provides a crucial source of income to small Caribbean countries, but it's not the only one. In recent years, many island nations have founded medical schools. In addition to temperate weather and ocean views, the schools typically offer easier admissions standards and lower tuition bills than American universities. Many doctors and nurses have established successful careers based on their education at Caribbean medical schools, but aspiring students should make sure to do their research before hopping on a plane to Barbados.

  1. Make sure the school is accredited. Spending four years in medical school is a major investment of time and money, so students should make sure that American employers will honor their degree when it's time to come home and find a job. Each country accredits its own institutions, but the U.S. Department of Education reviews those foreign standards every year before awarding federal education loans to American citizens who are attending the schools. Caribbean nations whose standards are comparable to American medical schools include the Cayman Islands, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Saba and St. Maarten. Individual states like California, Florida, New York and New Jersey also evaluate foreign medical schools, grading the standards at Caribbean colleges like Ross School of Medicine in Dominica, Saba School of Medicine in Saba and St. George University in Grenada.
  2. Ask if you can get clinical rotations. After completing their basic classroom studies, aspiring doctors gain experience as apprentices in large teaching hospitals. Major American universities can easily place their graduates in these clinical rotations, but foreign medical schools may struggle to find enough spaces. Students at Caribbean medical schools typically spend their third and fourth years of school training in U.S. hospitals, but changes that are brewing in New York state could make that more difficult. A total of 16 domestic medical programs in the state are lobbying the State Board of Regents to make it much harder for foreign schools to place students in New York hospitals, the New York Times reports.
  3. Check if the school has professors who teach your specialty. Medical students typically pick a specialty after learning the core curriculum, choosing from careers such as neurology, ophthalmology, dermatology, oncology, pediatrics, gynecology and orthopedics. Many graduates are drawn to lucrative choices like surgery and anesthesiology, fostering a growing shortage of general practice doctors in primary and family care. That trend is exacerbated by a predicted shortfall of up to 90,000 doctors in the U.S. by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Whatever their choice of discipline, medical students should make sure that their school has a strong staff of experts teaching that field.
  4. See how well the school's grads do on their medical boards. Regardless of where they go to school, students have to pass the rigorous medical board examination to earn a license to practice medicine in the U.S. Evidence shows that top Caribbean medical schools, such as American University of the Caribbean in St. Maarten, lag slightly behind American universities in preparing their students for the test, but are catching up fast, according to a student loan study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In 2008, approximately 75 percent of foreign-trained graduates passed the clinical knowledge portion of the exams on their first try, up from 57 percent in 1998, the study found. The rate for students from American and Canadian medial school was 94 percent in both years. So if you didn't get in to your hometown med school, feel free to send your test scores to colleges in Jamaica or Antigua. Just do your homework first, and find the college that best fits your needs.