So You Want To Go To A Caribbean Medical School?

Before you DECIDE, read this first.

Medicine is my dream career. But, graduating from a Caribbean medical school was not my plan A or plan B. It wasn’t part of the plan, I (simply said) stumbled upon it.  I’d been accepted into Temple University in Philadelphia, but my international US student visa got declined and that was where my rerouting began.

People ask me (all the time) if they should take the leap and traverse the oceans to seek their medical dream on a not-so-far-away island.

In my opinion here is what you should consider. Note that all important links are embedded. Click on them and READ them!

  1. School Accreditation.  Definition of “accreditation” from the Websters dictionary: to recognize (an educational institution) as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice.Each country has different accrediting agencies. For example, the USA and Canada use the  LCME  (Liason Committee on Medical Education:  jointly sponsored by the AAMC & AMA) for MD schools and COM Accreditation for DO schools.  FAIMER is NOT an accrediting agency, but they provide a Directory of Organizations that Recognize/Accredit Medical Schools (DORA) . Use this site (DORA) to look up the organization that accredits schools for the Island of your choice and then ask your school whether they have the appropriate accreditation stated. This should only be a “yes” or “no” response. Remember that a government charter and/or being listed in a medical school directory (i.e. World Directory Of Medical Schools, FAIMER, IMED, WHO) is NOT the same as being accredited. Again, refer to accreditation above and note the ONLY agencies that can offer such services.
  2. National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA) Status. The NCFMEA is not an accrediting body but they are a branch of the US Department of Education with a key role in medical education. You need to verify whether the foreign medical school is acknowledged by NCFMEA. Failure to do so can prohibit your access to certain federal student loan options. I took this quote from their website because I could not explain it any better:
  3. The National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation or NCFMEA was most recently authorized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.  The Committee is authorized to evaluate the standards of accreditation applied to foreign medical schools, and to determine the comparability of those standards to standards applied to medical schools in the United States. A determination of comparability of accreditation standards by the NCFMEA is an eligibility requirement for foreign medical schools to participate in the William D. Ford Federal Direct Student Loan Program [20 U.S.C. §§ 1087a et seq.].

  4.  Key State Approval.  Ever heard of the “California list“?. If not click here. This list is important because graduates from certain schools are not allowed a license to practice in California. A comprehensive list of unapproved schools by the board of California be found here. It appears that if your school is not approved by their board you cannot practice there, but there are a few other states that may not equally allow you a license to practice. Some include TN, NM, ID, CO, AK, AR, VT, IN, OR and whoever else chooses to follow CA at any point in time. After residency training, you may consider applying for a CA license if you are licensed in another state and meet strict reciprocity criteria as detailed here. Schools approved by CA have been visited and reviewed by the Medical Board of California and met the state’s standards needed to allow students of the school to complete clinical rotations and graduates to enter residency and obtain medical licenses there. REMEMBER, every State and student portfolio is different, always call the State-specific licensing board for more information!
  5. Credibility & Reputation. Research, research, research. Talk to alumni, current students etc. Look up the school’s social media platform to see what the students are really saying. Call the island authorities. Do whatever you need to do to get information on the consistency of faculty members, availability of laboratory resources, medical libraries, necessary amenities etc. Question opportunities for research and also the availability of reputable spots for clinical rotations during 3rd and 4th year. With the recent wave of natural disasters, weather shouldn’t be a limiting factor as it is sporadic and destructively bad weather can happen anywhere but you should certainly consider it.
  6. Graduate Performance. Request information on USMLE performance i.e. pass rate, failure rate, number of attempts etc. Look back at the last 3-5 years. If a majority of the graduates are not passing the USMLE  on the first attempt- that is a red flag. Ask about the number of graduates from the school who have successfully matched into US residency programs. Or even the number of graduates in current practice. This is important as it gives you an idea of the States you will be eligible for and also your chances of success with the school.
  7. Student Loan Options. Always inquire before you go. If you are able to sort out your source of educational finance prior to leaving for the foreign school, it will reduce your stress level and allow you time to study in peace. Trust me! Some students pursue an MD/MBA so as to meet criteria for student loans while at an offshore school by using the US-based MBA portion of education to apply for loans. Again; I recommend you inquire with your host institution.
  8. Visa Status. For non-US citizens seeking to go to an Island nation for medical training, you will need to consider a few things. First, your ability to apply and obtain the visa to study on that island and then your chances of entry into the USA after completing the basic sciences portion of medical school. Check with the Embassy of both countries in your hometown for additional information. Again, every case is different and this would have to be individualized.

Got any other issues you think need to be addressed prior to going to a Caribbean medical school? Please include them below.

Tell me what you think.