Many prospective students are just starting to learn about Caribbean medical education. They aren’t aware of the similarities or differences to studying at home, or even what it means to be an international medical graduate (IMG) practicing in the United States and Canada.
Today, we’re going get into all the ways a Caribbean med school is a viable path, if not even a great choice, for students that want to practice back home.
Before we get started, let’s get into why offshore medical schools even exist. In as simple of terms as possible, the demand for doctors simply cannot be met by US schools alone.
Residencies (the post-graduation training required to obtain licensure in the U.S.) are often noted as a bottleneck contributing to the physician shortage, but this is not the case. In fact, of the 19,000 new residents that matched last year, nearly 3,000 were US citizens that went to the Caribbean to receive a medical education. The viable applicant supply is there for US medical schools. So is the demand for them. The problem is the available seats in the schools themselves. The physician shortage was already a looming threat nearly two decades ago, so US medical schools boosted enrollment to the tune of about 28%. In that same time, the applicant pool increased in size by 36%. It wasn’t enough to keep up with supply and still fell short of demand. This isn’t fair to students, and it certainly isn’t fair to communities that need doctors.
Attending a medical school in the Caribbean isn’t just about filling a gap in opportunity, though. There are specific advantages that go above and beyond the opportunity itself. We’re going to cover a few right now.
Studying Medicine On A Caribbean Island Has Its Advantages
A lot applicants to off shore med schools are looking for a fresh start to meet their full potential. The change in location and distance certainly help (after all, the schools are on literal islands), but so does the campus culture. You are immersed in your studies and surrounded by like-minded people all driving towards the same goal and you’re doing this without your past commitments and obligations that still exist when you stay close to home. You eat, sleep, and breathe medical school for those first two years (except when you don’t, which we’ll get to in the next section).
The level of focus this offers is life changing for a lot of students. Applicants with MCAT scores outside of the range sought by US medical schools come to school and recognize that this is an opportunity to prove to themselves that they have the potential to succeed. Through faculty support and academic immersion, many of these students perform in the top percentile of the USMLE Step-1 exam, allowing them tremendous access to highly competitive residencies when they graduate.
There is a myth already out there that IMGs will have a more difficult time in the match because more US trained DO students will be applying for the same residencies. This is verifiably false. In fact, the opposite is true. MD students of any kind, including Trinity's graduates, have a better opportunity to match after the merge. Read more about the DO & MD merge here.
A Different Culture Providing Different Perspective
While most of a student’s time will be spent in the classroom, the hospital, or studying, there will still be time to join the local culture in the Caribbean. St. Vincent, in particular, boasts incredible natural beauty. It’s a living, working nation that has a unique identity all its own where the students are very welcome. Additionally, campus groups are heavily involved in local global health outreach. There are also major school sponsored programs like the World Pediatric Project. Student groups also have long-standing relationships with local churches, orphanages, clinics, even the Rotary Club. It broadens students’ experience pool in a way that lets them better empathize with their patients, elevating the care they can provide.
A Unique Global Health Experience You Won't Find In The United States & Canada
Global health outreach is a significant part of the education students receive from certain Caribbean medical schools—especially Trinity. Some of this is simply by nature of being in another country. Because our annual student enrollment is comparable to the average U.S. medical school, we afford our students an opportunity that few other schools can through our teaching hospital.
Our students are in the hospital each week observing, and then interacting, and then assisting physicians during those critical early years of medical school. This practical experience is just not available at other schools. Every alumni we’ve ever spoken to has said the same thing, that they felt more prepared than their counterparts when they entered clinical rotations, and their preceptors commented on just how comfortable they all seemed interacting with patients compared to the US students. Our clinical training is an incredible head start and invaluable when it comes to standing out and getting noticed during rotations, which can lead to better letters of recommendation in pursuit of the almighty residency match.
The career-spanning benefits of this particular element can’t be overlooked, though. Global health experience is an increasingly a major factor in residency match and beyond. Moreover, students will simply see patients struggling with issues they would not find back home in the US or Canada. This sharpens diagnostic ability, adaptability, and, once again, empathy. It has Caribbean students uniquely situated to join groups like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) as well as rise to leadership positions in major hospitals back home.
Speaking of back home. . .
Caribbean Med Schools & US Clinical Training
Earlier, we spoke on the value of getting outside the US and learning to practice medicine with limited resources, and for complex cases. And while that foundation is incredibly useful, not enough can be said about going home for those last two years of medical school. This is why Caribbean medical schools hold their clinical rotations at teaching hospitals in the United States.
Trinity provides students the kind of clinical experience you would expect from a U.S. medical school. We offer the choice of two clinical campuses, where we have affiliations with top teaching hospitals and medical clinics to provide the highest quality clinical education to Trinity students.
On both campuses, Trinity students can complete their full 48 weeks of core rotations in our affiliated hospitals and clinics – no waiting for rotations slots to open and no waiting between rotations. An extensive list of fourth year elective rotations is also available in both locations. Students can finish on time and stay on track for their residency match cycle.
No matter what clinical campus you choose, you will find the following qualities in the clinical program:
On-site Senior Associate Dean of Clinical Clerkships. Our clinical Deans are experienced leaders in clinical education and are an invaluable resource to students in gaining full advantage from clinical experiences that are available to them in third and fourth year and in preparing for the residency match.
Highly Qualified Faculty. Trinity selects as core clerkship program chairs and clinical faculty members only the most qualified teaching physicians with a passion for training the next generation of physicians. We maintain a low student-to-faculty ratio in all clerkships to ensure the best learning environment for students.
Tight-Knit Student Community: Our two campuses offer a community environment where students can remain in close connection and in supportive networks for their entire third and fourth years. This is a major difference with other international schools, where students may be scattered among multiple locations and may be required to move between sites for different rotations. Our students benefit greatly from the deeper connections they make with faculty physicians, who can be very helpful through guidance and recommendations in the residency match process.
By bringing students home for clinical clerkships, they’re learning from the doctors that are operating with the resources and patients they’ll eventually see themselves, allowing them to grow that foundational knowledge. They’re also providing residency program directors with the knowledge that they have working knowledge of U.S. hospitals, from the structure and terminology to the expectations of patients. The students learn alongside students from US medical schools. Earlier, we mentioned how preceptors comment on Caribbean students’ comfort level with patients. They’re more than just prepared, they’re thriving when they head back home and, in some cases, even ahead of the curve.
When it comes to criteria students consider when evaluating an international medical education, residency match is the granddaddy of them all. There’s a belief that Caribbean medical students are going to struggle in finding a match, that their status as an IMG relegates them to certain specialties or certain programs. And while it can be a complicated path for some, it is, by no means, a barrier.
There are five critical criteria that determine residency match that are heavily emphasized at Caribbean schools. We explore them more deeply here, but they are, in order:
- USMLE Step-1 Score
- Letters of Recommendation
- MSPE/Dean’s Letter
- USMLE Step-2 CS and CK Score
- Personal Statement
Each of these areas, through hard work and strategy as well as proper support from an international medical graduate’s school, can make them shine on residency applications. When we said a Caribbean medical school wasn’t a barrier to a match, the data bears that out. The above list covers the top five criteria, but what school you went to? Where the school is? That doesn’t even crack the top 20 criteria for residency match.
A good, accredited Caribbean medical school is held to the same standard as US schools and residency directors know this. It ultimately comes down to what the student achieves with the opportunity they’re given and the support they have to succeed after they graduate.
A Caribbean medical education isn’t just a second chance. For many students, it can be a great choice that starts their career in medicine with unique experiences, incredible memories, and a mentality of hard work, focus, empathy, and grit simply not found elsewhere in medical education.
Ready to take the next step? Our admissions team is here to answer any questions and assist you through the application process.
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