Key criteria to consider when evaluating Caribbean medical schools

Key criteria to consider when evaluating Caribbean medical schools

While attending medical school in their home country is the preference of most U.S. and Canadian students,  this unfortunately is not a  feasible option for many.  There are limited seats in U.S. and Canadian schools and the demand far outstrips the supply. In U.S. medical schools in 2018-2019  there were over 52,000 applicants vying for approximately 21,000 seats. In Canada the situation was similar, with over 13,000 students applying for under 3000 seats.

Attending medical school in the Caribbean has always been a popular alternate path chosen by many students who want to become an M.D. and practice in the United States and Canada. However, the quality of the over 50 medical schools in the Caribbean vary widely.  It is  important to be well-informed about the important criteria that should be part of an evaluation process . What are the important evaluation criteria for an interested pre-medical student?

The importance of  Accreditation and Licensing

It is imperative for prospective students to choose a Caribbean medical school that will allow them to become licensed to practice medicine in North America. A school needs to be appropriately accredited, otherwise graduates of the school can be precluded from medical licensure in the U.S. and/or Canada. Licensing authorities at both the federal and state/provincial level in North America have become increasingly stringent in their assessment of foreign medical schools and their graduates. It is of the utmost importance  that the school you choose is appropriately accredited and recognized.

The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) certifies which students from foreign schools may take the United States Medical Licensing Exams. In order to practice medicine in the United Sates students must take and pass these exams. ECFMG certification will change in 2023.  Beginning in 2023, this certification will only available to students from schools that are accredited by an accrediting agency that is officially recognized by the World Federation of Medical Education (WFME). Currently, there are only three accrediting agencies working in the Caribbean that are recognized by WFME:

  1. Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM)
  2. Accreditation Organization of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO)
  3. Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Health Professionals (CAAM-HP)

Similarly, the U.S. National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA) evaluates which foreign countries and their accreditors use standards that are comparable to the standards used to accredit medical schools located in the United States. The curriculum, faculty, resources and the schools themselves are held to comparable standards to U.S. medical schools.

 

 Currently, there are three states (New York, California and Florida) that independently review foreign medical schools. These reviews can have a bearing on the ability of foreign medical students/graduates to participate in clinical rotations and/or practice medicine in that state. In 2020, however, California will discontinue its reviews, leaving only New York and Florida as the two states independently reviewing foreign medical schools. Students from unapproved schools cannot participate in any clinical rotations in Florida. In New York, students from unapproved schools cannot earn a residency in the state and can only participate in limited clinical rotations.

It is important therefore to attend a Caribbean medical school whose accreditation is recognized by WFME, NCFMEA, New York and Florida. Currently there are only seven Caribbean medical schools recognized by all of these organizations:

  1. American University of Antigua
  2. American University of the Caribbean
  3. Medical University of the Americas
  4. Ross University
  5. Saba University
  6. St. George’s University
  7. St. Matthew’s University

Access to the  United States Federal Loan Programs

The United States Department of Education must assess and approve the quality of the school in order for students from Caribbean medical schools to receive U.S. federal loans. The criteria used by the Department of Education include:

  1. Accreditation recognized by NCFMEA
  2. USMLE pass rates of students and graduates
  3. Quality of clinical rotations

There are only seven Caribbean medical schools currently that are approved by the Department of Education for participation in the U.S. federal loan programs:

  1. American University of Antigua
  2. American University of the Caribbean
  3. Medical University of the Americas
  4. Ross University
  5. Saba University
  6. St. George’s University
  7. St. Matthew’s University

Among the many Caribbean medical schools, these seven schools stand out as having the external recognition necessary for their students and graduates to practice medicine in the United States and to obtain access to U.S. federal loans. These are the same seven Caribbean medical schools whose accreditations are recognized by both WFME and NCFMEA, and which are approved by the licensing authorities of both New York and Florida.  As such, students reviewing Caribbean medical schools would be wise to consider limiting their evaluation to these seven schools.

 Making my choice among the seven Caribbean medical schools

How should a prospective student choose among the seven Caribbean medical schools that meet the necessary external standards for quality?

Class size can vary widely, and thus the attendant level of personal attention afforded to students. Students  should be mindful of their learning style and look for a school that will match their personal preference. Schools such as Medical University of the Americas strictly limit the size of their incoming cohorts, while others have extraordinarily large class sizes. St. George’s University has had incoming cohorts of nearly 1,000 medical students, while class sizes of greater than 500 medical students are not uncommon at Ross University.

Schools vary widely in their tuition, with some charging more than virtually any US medical school, while others are  much more affordable.

Lastly, the island itself should be taken into account. Some Caribbean countries are poor – often with high crime rates – while other Caribbean islands have all the comforts of home and provide a beautiful and peaceful setting in which to study medicine.

 

              Choosing the right Caribbean medical school that meets the criteria outlined above will enable you to practice              medicine in the field that you want anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. 

 

 Below is table of information that will enable you to compare the seven schools across some key variables. For reference, it also includes the data for the median U.S. public medical school.

School

Location

Cost (1)

Wealth of Country (2)

American Univ. of Antigua

Antigua

$211,540

$14,803

American Univ. of Caribbean

St. Maarten

$228,015

$15,400

Medical Univ. of the Americas

Nevis

$174,075

n/a (3)

Ross University

Barbados

$251,385

$16,494

Saba University

Saba

$186,317

$24,200

St. George's University

Grenada

$288,705

$10,451

St. Matthew's University

Cayman Islands

$164,908

$65,472

U.S. Public Medical School (Median)

United States

$234,932

$60,055

(1) Four year tuition & fees as of 2018-19. Source: American Association of Medical Colleges, individual school websites 
(2) GDP per capita. Source: United Nations Statistics Division, CIA World Factbook, Statistics Netherlands 
(3) Data unavailable for island of Nevi


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