Deciding to Attend an International Medical School

Medical students with microscopes

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When it's time to choose a medical school, the process and options can be overwhelming, from selecting the right program, applying, and interviewing to managing loans and passing board exams. It can be expensive, time-consuming, not to mention the competitive process, but there are ways to navigate the system.

International medical schools—such as Ross University in Barbados and other accredited schools in the Caribbean, as well as Mexico, Asia, and Australia—offer a way to pursue your passion for medicine without having to wait for spots in domestic schools to open. In fact, one quarter of physicians in the U.S. have graduated from international medical schools.

Going to a medical school abroad may sound appealing, but there are pros and cons any candidate must consider. Here's a look at the opportunities and potential obstacles.

Pros of International Medical Schools

Less restrictive requirements, lower tuition costs, and possible U.S. residency opportunities are all favorable aspects of applying to foreign medical schools, particularly in the Caribbean. Consider these factors when figuring out if medical school abroad is the right fit for you.

  • Higher acceptance rates: Many medical schools in the Caribbean accept a much higher percentage of applicants than schools in the U.S. in part due to less restrictive entrance requirements. For schools outside the Caribbean, acceptance rates vary.
  • Broader entrance requirements: GPAs and MCAT scores are typically lower than average among international medical school applicants, making these programs a realistic option to consider for those with lower scores.
  • Less expensive than domestic counterparts: Tuition for international schools is usually cheaper than medical schools in America, which can lessen the burden of student loans and financial stress that many medical students face.
  • U.S. clinical rotation opportunities: In many of the Caribbean schools, the first two years of basic science is done on their campuses overseas, while clinical rotations are done in U.S. hospitals. Though your home school is still overseas, you have the advantage of the same clinical exposure and opportunities as the hospitals' home medical students. Many past students cite this as an advantage in applying to U.S. residencies. Other overseas medical schools allow students U.S. clinical rotation opportunities, though usually on a more case-by-case basis.

Cons of International Medical Schools

While the early stages of going to medical school abroad—like applications and tuition fees—may be favorable, there are differences and potential challenges, particularly after you've graduated.

  • Grading systems: While many U.S. medical schools use an Honors/Pass/Fail grading system, many medical schools overseas use a traditional A–F system. You might feel that such precise grading systems can add additional stress to an already competitive atmosphere and post-graduate job market and industry.
  • New environment: This can be either a pro or a con, depending on your perspective. Keep in mind that politics, social norms, and weather usually differ, too.
  • Match challenges with U.S. residency: Though many international medical graduates successfully match into residency programs across the U.S., they do so at significantly lower rates than their U.S. graduate counterparts: approximately 48% of international graduates compared to 94% of U.S. graduates. Many schools in the Caribbean, however, state that a significant percentage of their graduates find positions outside the match.
  • Additional certifications: After graduating from an international medical school, you'll be required to take an additional exam, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), that isn't required for domestic graduates. Additionally, each time you apply for a state license or any certification, the process may be slower, since the documentation must be obtained from overseas.
  • Less favorable perception: Patients and employers typically have a less positive opinion of international medical schools. Some employers prefer to hire doctors who have graduated from a U.S. medical school.

A Word From Verywell

Your choice of medical school can impact your future career prospects, so if you're considering applying to an international medical school, these pros and cons could help make your decision a little easier. Keep in mind that there are other avenues to practice medicine as well. For example, if you're interested in primary care and want to stay and practice in the U.S., you might consider applying to an osteopathic medical program. Whatever you decide, it's important to research your options carefully so your path is fulfilling, tailored to your goals and capabilities, and falls within your budget.

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