Should I Apply to Caribbean Medical Schools?

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Before applying to medical school, every aspiring student should know the options. We’ve all been through years of school by now…it’s always best to do your homework, right? So what is the story on Caribbean Medical Schools? Should I consider them as an option? Should I apply?  

The Current Reality of Applying to U.S. Medical Schools

The average matriculation rate for applicants to U.S. medical schools varies by year, but it is generally somewhere around 40%. What this actually means is that less than half of students who apply to medical school in the U.S. end up being accepted to one. Therefore, it is wise to consider all the options and know about alternatives to the traditional allopathic (MD) medical school approach. First, osteopathic (DO) schools are a great option for many students. A previous post has touched on this, and look out for more content in the future. But what about the student that may have a GPA and MCAT below the average for both MD and DO schools? One option to consider is attending medical school in the Caribbean.  

Caribbean Medical School Options

There are several medical schools located in the Caribbean, but not all should be considered for a U.S. applicant. The reason is that these schools have varying accreditation status. There is a limited number of Caribbean schools (< 10) which are considered to meet U.S. standards, as determined by the United States Department of Education. At present, 4 Caribbean Medical Schools operate specifically as a path to U.S. medical residency:
  • St. George’s University
  • Trinity School of Medicine
  • American University of Antigua
  • Ross School of Medicine
The key point to takeaway here is, do your research! It is imperative that you research in detail each school that you are considering applying to. Contact them directly if necessary to ensure that they are an accredited institution that will allow you to matriculate back to the US for residency. Also seek their average board scores and matriculation rates to U.S. residency positions. If this information is difficult to find, this may be a red flag to avoid that program!  

Medical School Average GPA and MCAT Scores

GPA MCAT Year Reported
Allopathic (MD) 3.55 28.3 2016
Osteopathic (DO) 3.40 26.4 2016
Top Caribbean schools (4 schools listed above) 3.2 – 3.4 24 – 27 2014

PROS

  1. Easier acceptance – there is no denying that the average GPA and MCAT scores are lower for Caribbean medical schools compared to U.S. medical schools. So it logically follows that it is easier to gain acceptance in the Caribbean. For some students who are concerned about the strength of their application, Caribbean schools can be a great option as a backup or alternative to applications within the US.
  2. Rolling admissions throughout the year – some programs in the Caribbean have admissions that occur on a rolling basis regardless of time of year, allowing students to matriculate shortly after acceptance.
 

CONS

  1. High attrition rate – many Caribbean medical schools accept a high number of students in each class (sometimes up to 1,000, which is much higher than any U.S. medical school). However, a much lower number of students actually end up graduating. Sometimes as high as 30-40% of students fail or drop out, and some say this is due to systemic lack of support and rigorous/competitive passing standards breeding a toxic student culture.
  2. Variable clinical experience – the majority of Caribbean medical schools do not have clinical rotations in the U.S.. As you might imagine, this can lead to a variable, and potentially weak, clinical experience in years 3 and 4 of medical school (your clerkship years). 
  3. Risk of being unable to match for residency in the U.S. – United States MD medical schools have average match rates above 90% and DO programs above 80%. On the contrary, Caribbean schools on average have match rates around 50%, with the best schools only around 70%.
  4. Limited options for future residency – by attending a Caribbean medical school, there is a much lower chance of matching into residency for some of the competitive specialties such as orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery, dermatology, head and neck surgery, and neurosurgery. It is certainly harder to match no matter what specialty you chose, but matching into the most competitive specialties from a Caribbean school can be a Herculean feat. 
  As you may have noticed, there are fewer pros on this list than cons. Overall, I would recommend proceeding with caution when considering applying to medical school in the Caribbean. Make sure you thoroughly research the programs you are applying to and be aware of their accreditation and the track record of their past students. Be wary of those that are overly enthusiastic or optimistic that the path to becoming doesn’t matter, as long as you become a doctor. Certain paths lead to additional obstacles, and foresight and planning will serve you well. But for those who had a rocky course in undergrad or a subpar performance on the MCAT, Caribbean medical schools can be a good option and a chance to secure a dream of medicine when it may otherwise be impossible. There are certainly many success stories of great U.S. physicians who got their start in the Caribbean, some of which I know!
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