How can you determine a Caribbean medical school’s quality?

If you open Google and do a search for “Caribbean medical schools,” it will quickly become clear to you that not everyone is a fan, but just because something doesn’t work for one person doesn’t necessarily mean it hasn’t worked for hundreds. Established, upper-tier Caribbean medical schools are credible alternatives for hardworking students unable to secure seats at U.S. schools. That’s a provable fact. Thousands of students across multiple Caribbean and international medical schools have secured residencies and moved on to fulfilling careers in medicine.

Then why do they have a negative reputation? Because not all of these schools are reputable and accredited. There are more than 80 Caribbean medical schools, all of which award doctor of medicine (M.D.) degrees, and the majority of them claim to offer a U.S.-modeled curriculum. So far, so good, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Caribbean medical schools and residency

Completing your medical education and earning your medical degree is an incredible accomplishment, but it won’t be enough by itself to launch your medical career. You’ll need to be accepted to and complete a residency program—a period of intensive postgraduate training in whichever specialty you select, whether it’s a primary care discipline or more competitive specialties.

Long story short: Without completing residency, you can’t become licensed to practice medicine. And to complete a residency, you’ll need to secure an invite to the program you want.

The probability of a student successfully attaining a residency is directly tied to his/her academic performance—and academic performance, of course, correlates with both the quality of your medical program and the efforts you put into learning and retaining the material. Residency program directors look at your clinical performance, your results on licensing exams, and a host of other metrics when they make decisions on who to invite to their programs.

Medical school graduates who fail to place in residency can try again for a future cycle—and indeed, some graduates find success on their second or third attempts. But some, unfortunately, never do, and all they’re left with is a medical degree they can’t use, mounting debt, and horror stories to share on social media. Not all Caribbean med schools are created equal. Just like medical programs in the United States, low-quality programs are far more likely to give you low-quality results.

Don’t worry, though. We’ve got you covered. Out of those roughly 80 Caribbean schools mentioned above, there are a scant handful considered reputable, successful, and legitimate by the public at large. We’ll even show you how you can use hard data—quantifiable metrics—to objectively measure a Caribbean medical school’s quality as best you can.

How can you determine a Caribbean medical school’s quality?

Though quality is subjective, there are three hard metrics you can point to that can help determine a Caribbean medical school’s overall quality.

Caribbean medical school accreditations

Accreditation is a process in which experts evaluate a given program and determine whether it meets the accrediting body’s standards. Medical schools are subject to accreditation—it’s a key indicator of whether an objective, outside agency believes in the legitimacy of the degree-granting institution.

Note that there isn’t an official U.S. accrediting body for Caribbean medical schools—meaning the Department of Education (DOE) does not personally come to assess Caribbean med schools.

Rather, you’ll want to look for a Caribbean medical school that holds an accreditation recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education/Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (WFME/FAIMER). This is important. After 2023, the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) will issue certification only for degrees from a school accredited by a WFME-recognized agency.

The two most common accrediting bodies you’ll see for Caribbean medical schools are the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (CAAM-HP) and the Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM). Both are recognized by the WFME, and the standards employed by both agencies are recognized by the US DOE’s National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation as comparable to U.S. medical programs.

If the Caribbean medical school you’re considering holds one of those two accreditations, consider that a stamp of high educational quality. If they don’t, well, caveat emptor.

The final word on Caribbean medical schools

Let’s sum up. As you’re vetting Caribbean medical programs, you’ll want to look at the following things, in addition to other important topics like financial aid and scholarships:

  • Strong residency performance
  • Accreditations
  • USMLE Step 1 first-time pass rate

One thing to note—and that most of the top-tier Caribbean medical schools stress—is that medical programs are chances for you to succeed, but they aren’t magic bullets. You’ll have the tools, the information, and the support from faculty and peers that all medical school students need to succeed, but at the end of the day, excelling in medical school is up to you.

Jerry Wargo is vice-president of enrollment management, American University of Antigua.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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