By Noura Radwan, MD
Entrance into medical school, is a difficult and an extremely stressful process. Throughout your undergraduate tenure, you are reckoned with the stresses of maintaining an incredibly high science GPA, the stress of studying for the MCAT while studying for your undergraduate classes, the stresses of scoring high on the MCAT, and the stresses of where to apply to medical school.
As the admission process has become more difficult than it previous years, to help you kick start the application process and understand a little more about where your undergraduate GPA and MCAT scores need to be, AAMC provided a great MCAT score and GPA grid for all applicants and the associated acceptance rates in U.S. medical schools. Your grades and MCAT scores, are not enough, your personal statement allows those viewing your application, to learn more about your goals, your dreams, your visions, and learn, simply, more about you. What I learned, over the years, is during this strenuous application process is that you need to have a plan. A good plan, that always involves a back-up in case things do not go as planned. You need to be honest with yourself and realistic during this process. You need a plan, meaning applying to a few excellent schools, a few mediocre schools, and a few schools that you may or may not care for as a last resort. What I have also learned is the curriculum in medical school does not change if you went to Harvard or went to St. George’s in the Caribbean. You will be come a great physician, because you are pursuing your dream, and will do so with dignity, class, and grace. You must always remember, you have options and choices.
However, let’s say that you worked extremely hard, applied to all your dream schools, average schools, and those you never wanted to attend, and received the crushing news that you were not accepted. Do you still have other options? The answer is yes. You can either re-take your MCATs, do a gap-year, go for a masters, or even apply to an off-shore medical school. The Caribbean may sound fun, but their programs are a lot more difficult than you may think, trust me. The New York Times, wrote an exceptional article about second chances (Hartocollis, 2014).
The article discusses the struggles of various students entering medical school, one in particular, had extremely “lax study habits” in his undergraduate years. These habits earned him average scores in freshman biology and chemistry and were not good enough to ensure entrance into a United States medical school. So, he decided to go to an off-shore medical school on a “conditional” admissions basis. He is now hoping to take over his father’s internal medicine practice, if hasn’t so already. There is hope. And although there are many medical schools in the Caribbean to choose from, the most important thing, I have learned, is the accreditation of the Caribbean medical school you choose and graduate from, determines what states you can and will be able to apply for residency in and practice as a physician. You will hear this word a lot, accreditation, accreditation, accreditation. Even when applying for an on-line masters, make sure you know the accreditation of the university.
Before applying to any Caribbean medical school, you must check the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions. On the site, you can see all off-shore medical schools, and if this entity has accredited the university you are applying to, as this is crucial for your future. It is also critical when you are taking your USMLEs, as ECFMG has recently announced that “effective in 2023, physicians applying for an ECFMG Certification [to become United States Board Certified] will be required to graduate from a medical school that has been appropriately accredited“. Meaning, if you have chosen to attend a school that is not accredited, you will not be able to become Board Certified, i.e. practice medicine in the United States. Accordingly, even if this is your “last resort” option, it is still option, but make sure you do your research.
You may have to work extra hard on your USMLE’s, but everyone has to, and everyone can make it. Even when you think you are “option-less.”
Ask questions, make sure all your clinical rotations during your 3rd and 4th year of medical school are performed in ACCME accredited hospitals. Please, make sure the university you are applying to is accredited! You do not have to go to Harvard or Stanford to become and incredible physician. Remember, at the end, you will all have the same degree, that Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), and will complete residency like any other individual, regardless of the institution. You may have to work extra hard on your USMLE’s, but everyone has to, and everyone can make it. Even when you think you are “option-less.”