How did you (do I best) prepare for an international move?

Moving across the continent can be very scary, but don’t stress too much about it! Thousands of medical students have done it before you, so it is very manageable if you prepare accordingly. Things to think about:

  • Firstly, find out what the overweight and extra baggage fees are as soon as you book your ticket. Every airline is different, however airlines to many of the smaller islands (ie. Martinique, St. Vincent, Bonaire, St. Lucia, etc.) are small charter planes and will only allow a certain number of bags on the plane. This means that some of your luggage may not make it on the flight with you, but on the flight after and you will have to pick it up later. Also, most of the small charter lines (particularly Liat) are not partnered with big airlines, and therefore any baggage fees you paid with, say, Air Canada, will not be “counted” and you will have to pay for each extra piece or overweight piece of luggage again. Sometimes you can get around this if you keep the receipt from your initial baggage fees. Make sure that your bags are NOT overweight, especially if you have multiple bags. I know several students who ended up having $600 in baggage fees from having to pay everything twice, plus overweight fees (again, twice)! So, either pack light if you can, and plan to bring stuff back on your next trip home, or bring a friend or parent with you who can check some of your luggage as their own, OR, save up to pay those fees. Keep in mind that some airlines have a maximum weight for carry on bags as well (Liat = 15lbs).
  • Find out what type of outlets are on the island and bring an adapter with you, if necessary. Some islands will not sell adapters for their own outlets, oddly enough
  • Contact school administrators who work on campus on the island and ask them for contact information for housing options
  • Arrive a week before classes begin in order to familiarize yourself with the city, find a place to live, get your house items and groceries, etc. so that you can focus on school alone once classes start – trust me, you don’t want to be worrying about that stuff when school begins!

As a Canadian, how can I finance medical school?

  • Bank of Montreal (BMO) offers student lines of credit for medical students (large enough to finance tuition and living expenses)

Do I need to buy all my textbooks and supplies from the supply list before moving to the island, and bring them with me?

  • No. For basic sciences, I did not need any of my medical supplies except for my blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, and tuning forks. None of which were used for the first semester, so if you are going home for the break, plan to bring back any supplies then. Talk to students from your school, of course, but in general for Caribbean med schools you are doing purely basic sciences (AKA 98% in-class lectures and 2% hands on clinical experience), so these supplies are not often used and when they are, your campus most likely has supplies on hand for you to borrow.
  • DO bring scrubs, you will need them for anatomy lab
  • As far as textbooks go, I purchased all the books from the school textbook list for first semester, and used only 1 of them (Moore’s clinical anatomy). I found that these textbooks had too much information for how little time I had to read them. I recommend obtaining the PDF copies of the books for reference alone if you feel like you need them once classes have already started. Your campus library will most likely have all the hard copies their for your use if necessary, and my school even had free access to PDF copies during class hours when studying on campus. Most students I know are the same in that they didn’t use any of their textbooks and found them to be a waste of money and space when moving. The only books I would highly recommend purchasing the hard copy BRS books for anatomy, physiology and cell biology/immunology (embryology is good too, but not a must have, in my opinion), plus First Aid. To be honest, these books + class slides are how I learned everything for each of those courses. They are very worth the purchase and are much more compact to travel with (except First Aid, but you may as well buy that as you’ll need it for the Step 1 anyway)

How many suitcases do most students bring when moving? Is it worth it to ship my belongings?

  • I brought 4, however I travelled with my mother so it was easier and less expensive to bring so many bags. It really is up to you, some students bring 2, some bring 5. It all depends on how many people you are traveling with to help you out, or if you’re alone, how much money you are willing to spend on baggage fees. Refer to FAQ #1.

Does joining student organizations like AMSA, DIT, etc. really help me?

  • These clubs/organizations are mostly for fun and networking purposes. I was an AMSA member and found that there were a lot of cool large scale benefits outside of the Caribbean but in the US. If you don’t feel like you can manage studying and belonging to a social group, don’t worry about it! These are not going to make or break your application for residency whatsoever. But they do provide opportunities to apply your knowledge and learn a few cool things while getting to know your professors and other students. As far as residency applications go, sure, it might look good to have experience from a board position, but in the scheme of things it most likely won’t make a difference.

What is rent like in the Caribbean?

  • It ranges from cheap to expensive, just like in North America! It really depends which island you’re moving to. I knew people in St. Vincent who paid $250/month (US) for a normal, furnished unit, all the way up to $600 (US). Utilities may be included or separate, again, just like home. It varies according to the land lord – but if you find somewhere super cheap to live, don’t think it’s too good to be true!

How hard is it to get a residency in the US as an IMG?

  • According to the 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey 60% of US residency programs included in the survey will interview US IMGs and 48% will interview Non-US IMGs
    • This means that IMGs will not be considered as candidates for a number of residency programs. However, from personal experience, most of the IMG graduates I have heard of/know of (either from my school or others) who have had good step scores and reference letters have matched to a residency just fine
    • So long as you do well on the Step exams (Step 1, primarily) and can swing reference letters from physicians practicing in the field of your preference, you should be fine

How hard is it to get a residency in Canada as an IMG?

  • Unfortunately, much harder. This is because Canada has such a small population compared to the US and so many less annual positions to fill. And the ones that are available will be given primarily to Canadian medical graduates.
  • A professor of mine shared factors that contribute to getting a residency back in Canada which include a great NAC OSCE score (>80) and electives in the Canadian hospital you wish to one day work in. Although the MCCEE is often compared to the USMLE exams, word is that the MCCEE score is not nearly as impactful and the NAC OSCE is a greater contributing factor
  • One thing I have also learned is that the odds of getting a residency in Canada are higher if you are a Canadian citizen who completed their MD abroad (Canadian Studying Abroad) rather than a non-Canadian citizen who also completed their MD outside of Canada
  • The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons is the main governing body over residency programs and applications in Canada so head over to their website for more valuable resources

What are the most important contributing factors for matching to a US residency program?

  • According to the 2014 NRMP Program Director Survey, the mean importance rating for selecting applicants (overall, in all specialties) is as follows: 94% USMLE Step1/COMLEX Level 1 score, 86% Letters of recommendation in the specialty, 84% Medical student performance evaluation (MSPE/Deans Letter), 80% USMLE Step 2 CK/COMLEX Level 2 CE score (refer to document for full list with about 20 other contributing factors. These are the highest only.)

Why do so many Caribbean medical students fail out or drop out?

It’s simple: These schools are much more flexible with their applicants than other medical schools. They weed out less people, and therefore more people who do not have the energy, determination, motivation, passion, etc. for medical school happen seep in through the cracks. I strongly believe that these are the people who fail to succeed. Anyone who is a determined, hard worker should not have to worry about failing out or dropping out. No, the quality of education isn’t up to par with North American medical schools, however the determined, hard workers will find other supplemental resources to use to their advantage (ie. Kaplan, BRS, First Aid, Pathoma, Picmonic, SketchyMicro, etc).

What are the top Caribbean medical schools?

  • AUC, St. Georges, Ross, SABA