This year’s medical school enrollment cycle is underway. If the last few years of data are any indication, more than 50,000 prospective students will compete for just over 22,000 places in allopathic medical schools in the United States.
Thousands of them no doubt scour medical school forums on the internet, hoping to find out when they might receive an invitation for an interview or an acceptance letter. Many may struggle to think about anything other than how their GPA, MCAT, or extracurricular score compares to others applying that cycle.
It’s no secret that medical school admission rates, especially in American schools, are lower than ever. Only 38% of applicants received an acceptance letter last year. Dozens of schools have admission rates below 2%.
But aspiring doctors shouldn’t let these numbers discourage them from pursuing their dreams. American medical schools are not the only route to a career in medicine. International medical schools have proven to be a viable option, while allowing the doctor to practice medicine in the United States
“International medical schools tend not to be limited to a student’s MCAT score, GPA, or shadowing hours,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University in Grenada. . “We are looking for qualified, well-rounded people who may not fit the traditional mold of a pre-med student, because we know their diverse backgrounds can make them exceptional physicians.”
There are dozens of international medical schools to choose from. It is therefore imperative that students do their research and carefully evaluate their options. Here are five criteria to keep in mind if you are considering applying to an international medical school.
A: Average GPA and MCAT score
It is a good idea to research the average GPA and MCAT scores of incoming students at the international schools you are considering. Darlene Diep, medical advisor at MoonPrep.com, says, “Your scores won’t necessarily make or break acceptance. However, they will be taken into consideration. Most high-quality institutions will consider these data points in their admissions decisions.
Consider the “Big Four” in the Caribbean: St. George’s University, Ross University, American University of the Caribbean, and Saba University.
Unlike some international medical schools, each of the Big Four requires prospective students to submit their MCAT scores. With the exception of students at the University of Saba, which does not publish its student scores, incoming Big Four students have average GPA and MCAT scores of 3.2 and 496 or higher, respectively.
Schools that enroll students with higher average GPA and MCAT scores tend to have better residency placement rates. The Big Four schools, for example, all have residency placement rates above 90%, according to the latest available data.
It is also worth researching if a school requires a minimum GPA or MCAT score to qualify for financial aid or scholarships. Students with a minimum overall undergraduate GPA of 3.70 or a minimum MCAT score of 510 are eligible for up to $110,000 in University of Saba scholarship funds. St. George’s University is awarding a $120,000 scholarship to any student with a minimum overall undergraduate GPA of 3.7, an undergraduate science GPA of 3.5, and an MCAT score of 506.
Two: Financial Aid
It is important to note that international medical schools offer a variety of ways to pay tuition and living expenses. Some may provide financial assistance to students who plan to practice in an underserved area upon completion of their residency. One example is St. George’s CityDoctors program, which awards full and partial scholarships to New York City students in exchange for their commitment to practice in the city’s public hospital system after graduation.
Some international medical schools provide scholarships to veterans, first-generation medical students, and aspiring physicians from underrepresented communities.
Loans are another option. Prospective physicians should check to see if the international medical school they are considering meets the eligibility criteria for the US federal student loan program. If a school is ineligible, its students will not be eligible to receive federal student aid. The federal government recommends that students contact each medical school directly to confirm their participation in the federal student loan program.
Three: accreditation status
When it comes to accreditation, not all international medical schools are the same. It is particularly important for students applying to overseas medical schools to research the accreditation status of their future institution, as this may affect the quality of education they receive and their future opportunities as a doctor. .
There are many accrediting bodies that evaluate medical school programs against a certain set of standards. St. George’s University is accredited by the Medical and Dental Council of Grenada, which reviews medical and dental schools in the Caribbean island nation. Ross University is accredited by the Caribbean Accrediting Authority for the Education of Medicine and other Health Professions, while American University of the Caribbean is accredited by the Colleges Accreditation Commission of medicine.
But it is not enough for a school to simply be accredited. For international medical students to have access to federal student loans, their school’s accrediting body must be recognized by the US National Committee on Medical Education and Accreditation Abroad. The Committee evaluates international accreditation agencies and approves those that have standards comparable to those of accreditation agencies in the United States.
Each international accrediting body must also be recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME). Beginning in 2024, only graduates from schools accredited by a WFME-recognized organization will be eligible for residency positions in the United States.
St. George’s University Accreditor received WFME recognition until 2032. The University of Saba Accreditor is WFME approved until 2028.
Other accreditors, including the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions, are awaiting renewal of their WFME recognition, with a deadline of 2024.
“It is imperative for prospective international medical students to verify that their institution of interest is accredited by a WFME-approved agency in 2024 and beyond. Without proper accreditation, students will not be eligible to take the exam medical license from the United States, obtain residency or apply for a state license, which will prevent them from becoming a doctor in the United States,” Olds said.
Although American medical schools are subject to various regulations, international medical schools often have more freedom to design their own programs. Accordingly, applicants should research the study programs of international institutions to ensure that they are of reasonable quality.
It is better to look for a program inspired by American schools. In general, students can expect to take two years of basic science courses in subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, and pharmacology. Some schools may offer classes in which students learn the science of individual organs or body systems. Students should also confirm that a school’s curriculum includes lessons on how to interview patients.
At the end of the first two years of medical school, students take the USMLE Step 1 exam. Finding a school with a rigorous curriculum can prepare students to pass the exam and ensure they are able to move into clinical rotations in the third and fourth years of medical school.
Five: Research and Clinical Opportunities
Finally, international medical school applicants should consider the research opportunities and clinical rotations available to them at each institution to which they apply.
Research is an important part of the medical school experience. It allows aspiring physicians to practice critical thinking, learn to synthesize complex sciences, develop their interests, gain experience in ethics, and better understand the latest developments in medicine.
Prospective students should verify the number of affiliated hospitals and clinical training sites of an international medical school. Clinical rotations, which are completed in the last two years of medical school, allow students to put their knowledge into practice and begin to interact with patients. Students typically complete multiple rotations in different core and elective specialties, ranging from pediatrics and psychiatry to anesthesiology and oncology.
It is important for a school to have a large number and variety of clinical opportunities so that students have the opportunity to explore different specializations that they might want to pursue in their future career. Some international medical schools may even have rotations available around the world, which can allow students to gain clinical experience in another country.
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Choosing an international medical school that ticks these five boxes can increase the chances of securing a competitive residency. Olds also recommends investigating an institution’s USMLE pass rate and residency placement rate.
“A student’s future career as a physician really begins with the decision of their medical school,” Olds said. “There are so many great medical school options out there. Students just have to do their research to find them.”
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