The North American medical establishment has long had an uneasy relationship with Caribbean medical schools — throughout the past few decades, they have grown steadily in number as more and more undergraduates around the U.S. and Canada are denied admission to domestic medical schools. The conventional wisdom for years has been that these foreign medical schools dilute the quality of the field of potential doctors in the U.S. by giving subpar students overpriced and low-quality educations.

Improving Outcomes

However, as students and qualified professors continue to flock to these schools, that reputation is changing — medical schools in countries like Grenada and the Bahamas are seeing higher graduation rates, better placement and rotation percentages, and more students passing medical board exams. There are over 7,000 doctors currently working in North America that attended and graduated from a medical school located on a Caribbean island. That represents a huge increase over even a decade ago, and reflects the success that foreign medical schools are having in attracting excellent students who, nevertheless, have had difficulty getting into medical school in their home country.

A Different Schooling Experience

Because so many of the schools are excellent, state of the art facilities located in impoverished and underdeveloped countries, a different medical culture has emerged out of them. Students are able to study while simultaneously having a positive impact on the community surrounding them. Rather than focusing much of their attention solely on modern technologies and complex procedures, professors incorporate basic medical techniques into their curricula. Due to this emphasis on crude techniques, it has been suggested that graduates of Caribbean medical schools are actually better equipped than graduates of Canadian medical schools to be doctors in developing countries.

Challenges Remain

Going to medical school in the Caribbean is not the primary choice for many students, largely due to the culture shock and external pressures that do not exist at home. Many Caribbean islands are extremely poor, and the presence of medical schools on them can create a two-tiered society, where locals resent the wealth and good fortune of the young students and the students feel unsafe or threatened by the town surrounding them. The cost of medical school in the Caribbean is uniformly higher as well — students typically graduate with education debt of well over $200,000, which is a figure about $50,000 higher than most of their U.S. and Canadian counterparts.

An Improving Model

Despite these intense challenges, many medical schools in the Caribbean are thriving. As their graduates become doctors and their alumni networks grow, many schools are seeing a bump in both student and faculty applications. The medical education industry is changing constantly — schools in the Caribbean and abroad are certainly affected by that change, but they are also part of it.