I would like to start this post by saying that studying medicine abroad is a great way to go if attending an American or Canadian school isn’t feasible for you, but it is not the best possible option. Unfortunately, stats show that American IMGs have a 60% chance of being considered for residency interviews in the states, and non-US IMGs (ie. Canadians) have an even lower likelihood of being considered, at 48%. This is why it is very important to consider every possible outcome before enrolling in medicine abroad (if you plan to work in North America, that is). That being said, I understand that for many of us, passing all the requirements to get into medical school at home can be difficult. For me, I would have had to re-do my undergrad and focus on the sciences – or at least spend another 2 years taking a load of pre-requisite courses. For others, achieving the outstanding GPA required for most med schools is unrealistic due to full-time jobs, kids, or family needs. All of this being aside from the required high MCAT scores. One of the largest factors stopping students from attending med school at home seems to also be the exorbitant tuition fees demanded from the first year of medical school alone (think rent, supplies, and textbooks on top of every day expenditures and then add tuition).
For these reasons, studying abroad is really like a miracle to those who have dreamed of being physicians but met a number of obstacles along the way. And it is a GREAT opportunity for those who are willing to work their butts off to achieve their dreams. All of this being said, I wanted to make this post offering some important considerations that I wish I had known more about before applying abroad.
1) Not all international medical schools qualify their students to write the USMLE. Make sure that the school you are applying to DOES if you plan to move back home for work.
2) Some international medical schools that do qualify you to write the USMLE, do not qualify you to work in all 50 states, specifically California, NY, Kansas & Texas. Check to see if your school is NCFMEA approved, specifically in the state you wish to practice in.
3) Not all international medical schools that DO qualify you to write the USMLE and ARE accredited in most states are green book approved. This means that graduates from these schools aren’t eligible to apply to certain residency programs.
4) Not all international medical schools are eligible to offer Title IV federal student loans. If you are relying on loans, be sure to ask your advisor where their school stands in this respect.
5) Living abroad might not be for you. Remember, the comforts of home are not seen everywhere else in the world. Many students come unprepared for the cultural and economical differences seen in other parts of the world. Do your research. Does the area have 110 outlets? How is the transportation? Is it safe to walk alone? Do their grocery stores accommodate your diet? How high is the crime rate? Is it easy to mail things to/from there? What is the shopping and tourism like?
6) Being an international medical student requires a lot of work. Due to the statistics above, future IMGs have to work twice as hard to outcompete the preferable medical students flooding in from reputable American & Canadian schools writing the same exams as us. This means scoring higher than average (230+) on the Step 1 and receiving great letters of recommendation from physicians in our preferred specialty. Not only that, but some international programs have completely different program styles – are they accelerated? How many hours of class will you have per day? How long are your holidays and how many do you have during the basic sciences? Are the professors reputable? Are the professors mostly MDs who have written the USMLEs themselves or are they specialists with PhDs in the field?
7) Many international schools have high rates of attrition – this means that the percentage of students who graduate from basic sciences alone is significantly lower than the percentage of students who enrolled from the beginning. Furthermore, many of the students who do graduate, then proceed to fail their Step 1 on the first try, which is a major blemish on the residency application. Check to see what the attrition rate is before accepting as this can be a good indication of the level of education you will receive and/or the amount of extra effort you will have to put in to succeed.
It’s a lot to consider, and the prospects of succeeding do look bleak, but it IS possible, as long as you have your facts checked before you start! The average match rate for IMGs in the states is around 50% for non-US and US IMGs alike and is increasing by the year. To summarize, be sure to research everything about your school of choice. Make sure you can write the USMLE, get a residency and practice in your state of choice. Be prepared to do more work than the average medical student and make an effort to learn about the country in which your school is located beforehand.
Totally manageable, right?
Until next time,