Caribbean medical schools have become a very popular option for both Canadian and American undergraduate students who may not meet the admission criteria for their Canadian and American counterparts. For students that have a lower GPA, MCAT, or fewer extracurricular experiences these universities are often viewed as easier schools to get into. Caribbean medical schools often have higher acceptance rates and have created many successful physicians.
While offering a potentially alternate route to gaining an MD, going to a Caribbean medical school has extreme risks. These schools have often been criticized for their for-profit model which has led to marketing strategies that take advantage of students’ aspirations while giving them improper information regarding their curriculum and residency opportunities. Oftentimes, students from these schools find it a lot harder, if not outright impossible, to match into Canadian and American residence programs of their choice.
Practicing medicine in Canada or the USA as a Caribbean medical school graduate is extremely hard but not impossible. Anyone considering this route should first understand all aspects of the application process, costs, and residency matching. This post breaks down all you need to know about Caribbean medical schools, including advice from current students and the dangers of going to a Caribbean school.
List of Caribbean Medical Schools
Of the 100+ Caribbean medical schools there are two categories of schools. “Regional” schools train students who wish to practice medicine in the country/region they are located in. “Offshore” schools, which make up approximately 60 of the Caribbean medical schools, aim to train students from the United States and Canada who wish to do their residency as well as practice in their country of origin. Many of the offshore medical schools offer a mix of lessons in basic sciences, which are completed in the Caribbean, and clinical clerkships, which are completed at affiliated hospitals in the US, Canada, and the UK.
Not all Caribbean medical schools should be treated equally. Some have a much higher likelihood of getting a residency placement in the US and Canada than others. Of the 60 Caribbean medical programs the “Big Four” are considered the most promising school, with a higher chance of matching graduates back to their home countries. They are:
- St. George’s University (SGU)
- American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC)
- Saba University School of Medicine
- Ross University School of Medicine
A full list of the “offshore” medical schools, website links, their date of inception, and an approximate number of graduated students each year can be found below.
Caribbean Medical School Accreditation
For all medical schools around the world, gaining accreditation is vital, as it is proof that the school meets the national standards leading to a medical degree. For example, the accreditation program for medical schools in the US and Canada is the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).
Similarly, medical schools in the Caribbean must be accredited if their students are to be allowed to pursue graduate medical education and residency in the US. The World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) is the regulatory body in charge of determining which foreign medical schools accrediting agencies properly assess the quality of international medical education. Through the WFME Recognition Programme, only Caribbean medical schools graduates with accreditations from the following three accrediting agencies may pursue a career in the US and Canada:
- The Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP)
- The Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM)
- The Accreditation Organisation of the Netherland and Flanders
These new regulations are currently being put into place and will come into effect in 2024. As a result, some of the above-listed Caribbean medical schools do not have the required accreditation. If you are applying to a Caribbean medical school first ensure that they have received accreditation from one of the three approved accrediting agencies.
Requirements for Admission
The requirements for most Caribbean medical schools are usually not explicitly stated. Oftentimes there are no cut-offs for admission to these medical schools. As we discussed previously these schools are for-profit institutions. The more applications they receive and the students they accept the more money they stand to make. However, we do know that accepted applicants from the “big four” medical school tend to have the following admission statistics:
St. George’s University School of Medicine
- Average GPA: 3.3
- Average MCAT: 498
American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine
- Average GPA: 3.27
- Average MCAT: 496
Saba University School of Medicine
- Average GPA and MCAT: Not published
Ross University School of Medicine
- Average GPA: 3.2
- Average MCAT: 496
Comparing these statistics to American and Canadian medical schools clearly shows us that getting into Caribbean medical schools is much easier.
Caribbean Medical School Costs
The costs of Caribbean medical schools tend to lie between the cost of Canadian medical schools and American medical schools. Depending on how well known the school is and what kind of calibre they are the cost for Caribbean medical schools ranges from $4,000-$20,000 per semester. A full list of the cost for Caribbean Medical Schools can be found below:
Due to the high cost of these medical schools, many students look for financial aid and loans. Unfortunately, there are very few medical school scholarships offered by these schools. Additionally, only the more prestigious Caribbean medical schools are eligible for US federal loans and Canadian student lines of credit. The following schools are approved to participate in the federal loan program. Check the link above for an updated list of schools eligible.
- St George’s University School of Medicine (The Big Four)
- American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (The Big Four)
- Ross University School of Medicine (The Big Four)
- Saba University School of Medicine (The Big Four)
- American University of Antigua
- Medical University of the Americas
- St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine
Residency Match Rates for Medical Schools
Once accepted to a Caribbean medical school, returning to a residency in your country of origin is a difficult process. Oftentimes, these students are less likely to match with Canadian and American residencies, especially Canadian programs which have few residency spots for international graduates. If a student falls behind in Canadian or US medical school, they still have a good chance of matching to residency programs, whereas in a Caribbean medical school, your chances are significantly reduced.
To match from a Caribbean medical school your grades and test scores have to be extremely high. Unfortunately, students who are accepted to Caribbean medical schools are often less qualified than their Canadian and American counterparts. Many will have not performed as well during their undergraduate studies. This, combined with an extremely tough curriculum, results in a dropout rate for these medical schools that tends to be high. Many of these students may stay for an extra semester to complete their studies. Many more will be unable to match back at all.
The Dangers of Caribbean Medical Schools
Caribbean medical schools are marketing machines. They know how to make their school look appealing to future students.
Match rates published by these Caribbean Universities are often misleading. They usually do not include students that have been held back or dropped out. Of the students that do match, a significant number have reported finding residency in undesirable locations and specialties.
The same is true for USMLE pass rates, which are often touted all over university websites and marketing campaigns. Many Caribbean Universities will prevent students from writing the USMLE if they know they cannot pass the exam. This artificially increases pass rate numbers.
That does not mean it is impossible to match back to Canada or the USA, but it is EXTREMELY difficult. If these students are willing to work hard and make valuable connections during their clinical rotations, returning is entirely possible. But at the same time, students must be prepared for the fact that if they are unsuccessful they may not be able to practice in their home country and be saddled with lots of debt.
Advice for Applicants Considering Applying
If you are on the border of being accepted to a medical school in your home country we definitely recommend staying home over the Caribbean route. Caribbean schools can be brutal and matching is extremely difficult. If you do decide to go to a Caribbean school go to one that has a history of success, such as the “big four”, with graduates in the field you are interested in. Be prepared and know what you are getting yourself into:
- Contact several people, including the school, students, graduates, etc before making a decision. Research, research, research! Good question to ask include determining the WFME Accreditation, USMLE pass rate, clinical placement rate, chance of obtaining reisdency, etc. (Also ask how these rates are calculated. As we discussed these rates can be misleading)
- Be aware of all the risks associated with obtaining a medical degree from an international institution. We have discussed some of the risks above, however, one should aditionally look to contact the ECFMG, FSMB, AAMC, AMA, NRMP, CaRMS and find out all facts regarding an individual school. Once you know all the risks that attending these schools you can make an informed decision.
- Try to avoid schools that have opened recently and have no track record of success. These schools may promise a great education in basic sciences on their island with USMLE preparation and clinical rotations, however, this may not be the case.
- Make sure you are academically capable of going to a Caribbean medical school. Many of these schools aim to accept as many students as possible regardless of their academic standings. Be certain that you will be able to handle their intense medical curriculum and excel in it.
FAQ on Caribbean Medical Schools
What's wrong with Caribbean Medical Schools?
In general, Caribbean medical schools have a bad reputation when compared to their American and Canadian counterparts. This is because they are for-profit institutions that tend to accept students of lower academic calibre who are often unprepared for the rigours of medical school. As a result, these medical schools tend to have high attrition rates in early years, poor USMLE pass rates, and poor residency match rates.
What Caribbean Medical Schools are Accredited in the US?
None of the Caribbean medical schools are accredited in the US. Accreditation is given on a national level. The World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) is the regulatory body in charge of determining which foreign medical schools accrediting agencies properly assess the quality of international medical education. Only medical students from Caribbean universities accredited by the following institutions may practice in the US and Canada; CAAM-HP, ACCM, and NVAO.
Can you transfer from Caribbean Medical Schools to the US?
It is highly unlikely that students studying in Caribbean medical schools will be able to transfer to the US. In general most of these medical schools, only consider transfer applicants from LCME accredited medical schools. The LCME only accredits medical schools in Canada and the USA.