Medical school is insanely competitive. In the most recent data available from the AAMC, only about 41% of applicants were ultimately accepted to a U.S. medical school. Osteopathic D.O. schools have been gaining in popularity in recent years as well, forcing less competitive applicants to turn to Caribbean medical schools in pursuing their dreams to become a doctor.
It’s important to understand that the medical school you attend is not the final determinant in whether or not you’ll be a good physician. We know a great deal of highly impressive physicians who trained at Caribbean medical schools, and other physicians who trained in the U.S. who are not as impressive. That being said, we believe in full transparency and making educated decisions.
At Med School Insiders, we’re surprised how commonly Caribbean medical schools are suggested and recommended to pre-med applicants, without regard for the significant drawbacks. Is a Caribbean medical school right for you? Are there significant negative consequences? Who should and who should not apply to Caribbean medical schools? Here are the most pertinent pros and cons of going to medical school in the Caribbean.
1 | Less Competitive (& Higher Chance of Acceptance)
It’s no secret – the main reason and biggest benefit in attending a Caribbean medical school is that it’s less competitive than getting into a U.S. allopathic medical school. The average MCAT of matriculants in 2018-2019 was 511.2, and the average GPA was 3.65 and 3.80 for science and non-science, respectively. The average MCAT and GPA for Caribbean medical school matriculants is much lower. For this reason, the schools have been described as “second chance medical schools”, offering students a chance who would otherwise not be realistic candidates for U.S. MD or DO programs.
2 | Excellent Climate
Location-wise, the Caribbean is not the worst place to be. You’ll have warm, tropical climates to enjoy year-round, without having to worry about commuting in the snow. Not all United States medical schools can say the same.
3 | Rolling Admissions
In order to apply to U.S. medical schools, you must apply through AMCAS in a set timeframe. Caribbean schools, on the other hand practice a rolling admissions process, meaning you can apply throughout the year and matriculate shortly thereafter.
1 | Challenging to Match into a U.S. Residency
The NRMPregularly publishes the Match data for U.S. graduates as well as U.S. IMGs (international medical graduates). In 2018, 94.3 of U.S. medical school graduates successfully matched. In comparison, only 57.1% of U.S. IMGs were accepted to U.S. residency programs. The best Caribbean schools may reach 70% match rates on the higher end.
2 | Cut Throat and Less Supportive Culture
Most Caribbean medical schools are in the for-profit business, and profit as the bottom line is a major driver in their motivation. As a result, student support systems and student wellbeing is not as highly prioritized compared to many U.S. programs. In addition, you’re unlikely to find a collaborative atmosphere, given that you’re competing with one another to get a coveted U.S. residency position. Unsurprisingly, attrition rates are significantly higher at Caribbean medical schools.
3 | Limited Options in Terms of Specialty
As much as you may think you know what specialty you want to practice long term, you’ll likely change your mind (and often times more than just once). I, for example, was sure I was going to practice pediatric gastroenterology, but I ended up matching into plastic surgery.
A significant limitation with attending a Caribbean medical school is that you are significantly less likely to be successful in matching into any competitive specialty. We’ve outlined and ranked the most competitive specialties before – understand that if you’re going for specialties like dermatology, plastic surgery, or orthopedic surgery, you’re much less likely to be successful than if you graduate from a U.S. allopathic medical school.
Even for less competitive specialties, you’ll need to make up for the fact you attended a Caribbean medical school by performing higher on USMLE Step 1 and Step 2CK than if you attended a U.S. program.
4 | Inconsistent Quality
There are over 60 Caribbean medical schools, but the quality at each is subject to vary. Unlike the LCME in the U.S., the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools offering the M.D. degree, the accreditation system in the Caribbean is less standardized and less robust. As a result, some schools have great results and great performance from their students — upwards of 95% passing USMLE Step 1 and a high percentage matching into U.S. residency programs. Others have a Step 1 pass rate as low as 19 percent with abysmal residency match rates.
5 | Increased Cost & Debt Burden
Some Caribbean medical schools have secured federal financial aid options for their students. Still, graduates are left with similar amounts of student debt, hovering around $200,000. Combined with the fact that you’ll be less likely to secure a residency position (and therefore practice clinically as a physician), it becomes clear that this is a riskier financial option.
So Are Caribbean Medical Schools Right for You?
For most students, we recommend strengthening the application and applying to stateside allopathic or osteopathic medical schools. Students are often surprised by how much they can strengthen their application in just one year — view our advising services and tutoring options to learn more. For other students who may not have the patience to strengthen their application or other factors limiting them, Caribbean medical schools may be their last option in becoming a doctor.