Help me in going to med school in the Caribbean?
July 3, 2013 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I am considering going to med-school in the Caribbean. I have everything completed pre-med except Organic Chemistry. I am wondering, Can FAFSA be awarded to those studying in Caribbean? I've looked at the list of schools on wikipedia and as far as I understand any that are labeled "offshore" will be recognized when I try to become licensed in USA, correct? Is there an easy way to find a list of which schools do not require the MCAT? Thanks.
posted by crawltopslow to Education (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The MCAT is a silly test, and it doesn't really have any relevance to the knowledge that you need to get through medical school. However, it is a sign (to some extent) of buy-in, and a sign of commitment to this chosen path. It's also the Great Equalizer. Any school worth its salt is going to have an MCAT requirement. And by "worth its salt," I mean that if you go to a medical school of less repute, you might have trouble finding a residency after you finish. You don't want to take on a metric ton of student debt, only to not secure a residency a few years down the road. I would advise you to take the MCAT, even if preparing for it adds another year to your plan, and apply to a broad variety of US allopathic and osteopathic schools, and the big 3 Caribbean schools - Ross, St. George's, and Saba tend to

It's also worth nothing that lots of the Caribbean schools have somewhat less rigorous acceptance standards as well, and have a pretty high dropout rate. I've been told that they do this to keep their USMLE pass rate high. So, they'll accept a certain number of people over the group that they expect to keep. These schools are incredibly expensive. I don't know too much about how people finance them, though. Probably a question best directed towards each school's financial aid office/website.
posted by honeybee413 at 6:36 PM on July 3, 2013

First off, is there a reason why you do not want to take the MCAT? Have you already taken it and done poorly, or is it something you want to avoid entirely? If your MCAT is sub-par, have you considered taking it a second time (after lots of studying, of course-- and ideally after completing organic chemistry, as that will certainly help with the biological sciences section of the MCAT)? Taking the MCAT multiple times won't be the death of your application if you have enough clinical experience and other extracurricular activities.

If you are simply bent on avoiding the MCAT, I'd take that as a red flag-- is this really the career that you want, that caters best to your talents, interests, and abilities? Medicine is a long road with many tests throughout medical school as well as standardized tests (Step I, Step II, Step III, and depending on your specialty, oral boards...). If you're already reeling at the thought of taking the MCAT, you should take a moment to reflect if this is the path you are prepared for.

Secondly: have you considered osteopathic (DO) schools as opposed to allopathic (MD) schools? Is your GPA decent? If so, you may have a chance at DO schools, even with a lower MCAT.

I ask this only because graduating from a med school in the Caribbean, while it will technically be recognized in the US, makes it more difficult to land a good residency in the US-- even if your degree is a MD and not a DO. Your career prospects will be far better with a DO; Caribbean med schools are notoriously easy to gain admission to, but difficult to finish, and if you don't, you'll be drowning in student loan debt and no career prospects in sight. Be sure to ask the med school what the graduation rate is, as well as what the USMLE pass rates are. I'd strongly suggest aiming for DO schools if you are not a competitive candidate for MD schools.

I believe that med schools in the Caribbean do require the FAFSA application, but do not expect any significant financial aid beyond lots and lots of loans.

A good place to start is the Student Doctor Network. Good luck!
posted by gemutlichkeit at 6:41 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't speak for all of them, but at least several of the more reputable Caribbean schools (like Ross and St George's) participate in Federal student loan programs and require the FAFSA. I think both of them require the MCAT for US applicants though. I do think most of the financial aid they provide is in the form of loans rather than grants.

This isn't your question, but why are you specifically looking at Caribbean schools? Based on your previous questions, I really hope it isn't to play professional online poker offshore, because you would be trading your short term income for being substantially less competitive for residencies in the US. It's not easy to get a good residency in primary care coming from the Caribbean, and anything more competitive (like orthopedics or anesthesia or derm)--forget it. And if you're going to put the blood, sweat, and tears into medical school, you owe it to yourself to get the best education and the best residency you can.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:43 PM on July 3, 2013

You may want to consider going a physician assistant or nurse practitioner route vs med school in the Caribbean if you are averse to the MCAT. It's good pay with less debt. It can be tough to match for a residency, and graduating from a Carribbean med school is not likely to help you.

Seconding the SDN recommendation.
posted by emkelley at 6:44 PM on July 3, 2013

I agree, take the MCAT. Even if you do manage to get out of taking it, you're not doing yourself any favors. You still going to have to take shelf exams and the USMLE step exams and believe me, those are even worse, AND longer. I think that's part of the value of it- you, and med schools, need to know that you can spend weeks devoted to hardcore study for an exam with substantial concepts and pass it (even better, kill it.) I really feel all those exams aren't a function of how smart you are, just how much you studied. Anyone can study harder or for a longer amount of time if they're motivated enough. Are you willing to spend 4 weeks studying from morning til night to get a good score on the MCAT? No? Well, that's what you're going to have to do for Step 1. And unlike the MCAT, you can't take Step 1 twice unless you fail- you get a crappy score, you're stuck with it, and that's what they look at when you apply for residency. Better get your standardized testing skills down cold now for the MCAT.

That said, I've heard from the pre-med students I occasionally encounter than gaining admission is more difficult than ever. (To be fair though, when I asked the most recent one what GPA/ MCAT they were shooting for, it was no different than when I was applying- just because the applicant pool is getting bigger doesn't necessarily mean it's getting much better.) But I also see some former undergrad classmates post stuff on facebook, who are in medical school in the Caribbean now and who seem to be doing okay. No, it's not perfect but it's a means to an end. I have also rotated in hospitals with residents who graduated from a Caribbean medical school and are now in a US residency- but in a less popular specialty, and at a less desirable hospital. Going to the Caribbean is a legitimate option but you have to be willing to work hard and also accept that your residency options are going to be limited. You want to go into family practice or pediatrics? You can probably do that. Something more competitive? Not likely. This year's match is the first year that there were more unmatched seniors from US allopathic medical schools than open spots to scramble into. The match is becoming (terrifyingly) competitive, and Caribbean/ FMGs are going to be the first ones screwed by it. If you're going to go a Caribbean school, at least take the MCAT and go to one of the more reputable ones.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am going to Caribbean because it's easier to get into and warm tropical environment. my GPA is 3.0. I don't plan on becoming a doctor in USA as a job. I just want the knowledge that I will learn in medical school along with the recognition of MD. maybe I'll go to the mountains in Mexico and help the indigenous people there, or to east Africa, and be an autonomous free doctor.
I don't mind taking the MCAT too much, but if not taking it is an option I would prefer that option.

me playing poker has little to nothing to do with me choosing to go offshore for medical school.
posted by crawltopslow at 9:52 PM on July 3, 2013

Sorry if I sounded harsh, your previous question about doing your premed work overseas so you could play poker made me jump to conclusions.

The thing about medical school is that it's so expensive that its almost impossible not to work as a doctor afterwards because you owe so much in loans. That's true of the Caribbean schools as well. Ross, for example, is 60k per year. The other thing is that US-style medical school does not prepare you to be an independently practicing doctor, at least not a competent one. Medical school gives you a wide but mostly theoretical knowledge base and then residency actually turns you into a functioning doctor. And to get a good residency, again, you need to go to as good a school as you can. That's not to say that everyone who goes through medical school is out in practice--my father the MD/PhD never did residency and had a career in bench research-- but the system is set up in such a way that just going to medical school to get the knowledge is not likely to yield the results you want. Unless you or your family are independently wealthy, in which case disregard what I just said about money.

Have you spent any time talking to doctors who do what you're interested in? Or to current medical students? I absolutely second going to SDN to get a bit of a feel for what current students at the schools you're considering are doing/planning to do.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:22 AM on July 4, 2013

If you are indeed serious about Mexico specifically, you could go to medical school in Mexico. The one (not particularly selective) that takes lots of Americans is the Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara. A year or two of serving in rural Mexico is part of the requirement to get an MD there.

I would be annoyed if someone said this to me, so I understand if you get annoyed. But it sounds like you're only just beginning to think about your options here. No MCAT? Really? Listen. IF you did find a school that didn't require the MCAT, coming from such a school will reduce your chances of getting a US residency to very, very tiny.

Take a look at ValueMD (for the full range of overseas options, not all of which are terrible, but all of which require a LOT of cash), and OldPremeds, which has a lot of information for nontraditional students (even if you're 23 and not old as such). In particular, look up oldpremeds user DRFP, who talks in detail about his struggles at one of the less prestigious Caribbean medical schools.

(Anecdata--a friend of mine, who has taught at a well-regarded East Coast med school for decades, LOVED a rotation he did at St. George's--said the students were a thousand times better than back home--so a word to the wise, you can't just "decide to go" to a good Caribbean school.)
posted by skbw at 6:45 AM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

One other option (that has to be deployed as part of a total package, not by itself) is medical school in Puerto Rico. These schools are considered U.S. medical schools for getting-a-residency purposes. But they do indeed have a warm tropical environment (and lower admissions standards than many continental U.S. schools).

There are also a number of osteopathic medical schools in the South. Florida is pretty warm and tropical. I'm not making fun, really, I do see where you're coming from. I also want to be in a totally different place from my hometown. These also require the MCAT (as do the PR programs) but are less competitive than MD programs.

Taking you at your word, and looking at your posting history, I'm not going to counsel you to buckle down for a couple of years, take some GPA-improving science classes, and apply to the good but not insanely competitive schools in your home state (among others). That would be a long road (but quite possibly shorter in the long run--think of where you'll be in 10 years, 15, etc.).
posted by skbw at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2013

I think it's worth reiterating the point made above that the completion of 4 years of American medical school (or Carribean school geared toward Americans) DOES NOT adequately prepare you to practice medicine independently. Medical school lays the ground work for residency, where you actually learn how not to kill your patients and get your medical license after years of further training. Asides from the horrible attrition rates of these off shores schools, it is increasingly hard to obtain a residency as a graduate of Carribean medical schools due to increasing mainland med school enrollment and constant number of residency spots.

I wanted emphasize this because the OP's reply implies a vague plan to be a "free autonomous" doctor in a developing country after med school. The legality of this aside, it is a question of patient safety; at that stage of training, you simply don't have enough experience to take care of patients in America or elsewhere in the world as a doctor, even if you technically have a MD behind your name.
posted by Pantalaimon at 8:40 AM on July 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think you are severely underestimating the difficulty and costs of med school. If you're not ready to throw down for the MCATs, you're not ready for the rest of med school--and I'm not just talking residency.

I just want the knowledge that I will learn in medical school along with the recognition of MD. maybe I'll go to the mountains in Mexico and help the indigenous people there, or to east Africa, and be an autonomous free doctor.

What knowledge do you think you'll learn and why do you want to learn it? What is an "autonomous free doctor", in your mind? You will learn a lot of theory in med school, but you will not be ready to practice. If you don't do a residency you're not an "autonomous free doctor", whatever that means, you're not a doctor. It's like a guy who just graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering calling himself a rocket scientist when he's never had a job. Except what you plan on doing is of questionable legality and will result in you hurting your patients if you actually try to carry it out.

But the fact remains if you're going to med school "for the knowledge" then you'll almost certainly fail out. Because the kind of person who talks about med school the way you talk about med school has no idea what med school is actually like. And after you fail out you'll be in massive, massive amounts of debt.

I see from your prior questions that you have a lot of interest in physical therapy. Why not look into becoming a physical therapist? Getting your doctorate in physical therapy may not have the snobby prestige of an MD, but it takes three years, there isn't residency, it's hands-on the entire time, it costs a hell of a lot less money, and you're almost guaranteed a job afterwards as the field is rapidly expanding to accommodate the aging US population.
posted by schroedinger at 12:14 AM on July 5, 2013

There are already more medical school graduates than there are residency slots available in the U.S. Additionally, if you graduate from a foreign medical school, you will definitely need to complete a U.S. residency in order to practice medicine in the U.S.

Residency Program Requirement
After ECFMG certification, physicians who wish to practice medicine in the U.S. must complete an accredited residency training program in the U.S. or Canada - this process will take at least three years. The physician will have to complete a residency program regardless of the training they have received overseas. Many medical graduates are placed in residency programs through the National Resident Matching Program.

More from American Medical Association

More from American Association of Medical Colleges
posted by forkisbetter at 8:47 AM on July 5, 2013

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