Why I'm Attending a Caribbean Medical School
Kendra Campbell -- My last blog entry about medical school feeling like a cloning colony generated some interesting feedback. It seems like many people were supportive of my choice while others were critical. I realized that I didn’t fully explain myself, so I’d like to do that now. I made the decision to go to medical school during my last year of college. However, I ended up taking time off after undergrad to experience the working-adult world. After an amazing stint at a psychiatric hospital for three years, I changed fields and went into the field of academic medicine. I spent almost four years working for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). During my third year there, I took the MCAT and went through the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) system to apply to medical schools in the U.S. I was a straight-A student in college, and I had a decent score on the MCAT. With my medical experience and recommendations, I had a pretty good shot at getting into a good school. But then I hit a wall.
The combination of stress, lack of money, and apprehension caused me to withdraw my application. I realized that I was young, and had a decent job, which offered plenty of room to grow. All of my friends were already out of school, had good jobs, and were set on their career paths. Honestly, I was scared. I was afraid of giving up the safety of my job and the comfort involved with not having to worry about grades or failing school. I let fear triumph and decided to pursue the safer alternative of staying at my job.
About a year later, a series of events led me to realize that I had made the wrong decision. I knew that I wanted to be a doctor, and I wasn’t about to let my trepidation of the unknown keep me from my dreams. Unfortunately, though, I had horrible timing. It was too late to apply to U.S. schools. If I wanted to attend a school in the States, I would have had to wait until the next year to apply, which meant that I wouldn’t actually be able to begin school for another two years.
Surprisingly, someone at the AAMC suggested that I look into attending a Caribbean medical school. Before then, I hadn’t even considered it as an option. When I was a pre-med student, everyone had scoffed at the idea of attending a Caribbean school, and it was jokingly referred to as "the last resort" if you couldn’t get into a U.S. school because your grades or MCAT scores were too low. But, I decided to look into the option, as I really didn’t want to wait two years to begin medical school.
Working at the AAMC afforded me the resources to thoroughly investigate my options. Since I worked closely with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which is the accrediting body for U.S. medical schools, I was intimately familiar with the criteria that are used to evaluate the quality of a medical education.
After doing all of my research, I narrowed in on Ross University School of Medicine. There were many reasons why I chose Ross, but the important ones were that it had a good reputation, decent USMLE pass rates, and the fact that Ross graduates more medical students each year than any other medical school in the U.S. or the Caribbean. I talked to several doctors who had graduated from Ross, and they all had good things to say. Finally, the fact that Ross University is approved by the U.S. Board of Education sealed the deal. This meant that I would be eligible for full financial aid, and when I return to the U.S., I will be able to practice in all fifty states without having to jump through any extra hoops.
After speaking with some of my colleagues at the AAMC, it seemed that the biggest drawback associated with attending a Caribbean school was the lack of prestige. If I wanted to go on to publish research, it would make more sense for me to graduate from a U.S. school with a good reputation. But I’m not interested in prestige. As one of the commenters on my last blog entry so astutely put it, "I am reminded of one of the less noble reasons I am called to medicine -- to save my patients from having to be treated by a doctor who is more concerned about where his or her degree came from than providing compassionate and effective medical care."
My goal is not to dazzle my colleagues or patients with a framed degree on my wall from a famous or prestigious medical school. While I value the importance of research, I’m not compelled to have my name published in a prominent medical journal. I simply want to be a doctor who treats her patients skillfully, humanely, and compassionately.
To decide whether attending a Caribbean medical school was the right choice for me, I merely had to answer one important question: Could I acquire a well-rounded medical education, which would equip me with the skills to be an excellent doctor? All signs pointed to "yes."
Although my basic science education is on the island of Dominica, I will be doing my clinical rotations at U.S. hospitals. I also have the option of potentially doing my fifth semester on the island at the local hospital here in Dominica. This seemed like the perfect combination to me. I get to live on a beautiful tropical island for eighteen months while I learn the basic sciences, and I have the option of beginning my clinical education at the local hospital. When I get back to the States, I will have the opportunity to learn at many different hospitals all over the U.S.
I actually just returned from my second exam, and I’m really beginning to feel like I can make it through medical school. I have realized that while it’s important to have competent professors, adequate facilities, and supportive services, there is more to a medical education than just the name on the outside of the building. The best medical school in the world can’t turn an unmotivated or incompetent person into an effective and caring doctor. It requires dedicated labor, an unwavering commitment, and an eagerness to excel, all of which are the responsibility of the student. Medical school is a two-way process, which requires both a skillful teacher, and a student who is eager and willing to learn. With medical school, as with everything in life, you get out of it what you put in.
What an excellent post. I am proud to be one of your future classmates at Ross. I'll be there in January 2007!
Posted by: Thomas G | Nov 7, 2006 4:38:44 PM
Congratulations on your decision Kendra!
I too am a student at a caribbean school - SABA - and I approached it much like you did. I researched the situation carefully - though I must say without any help from the AAMC or the LCME ;)- and realized I could fret about the "prestige" of having a US degree or I could go to medical school and become the Doctor I always wanted to be.
Best of Luck!
Posted by: chip | Nov 7, 2006 5:43:37 PM
Kendra, great entry. I'm going through the AMCAS application process, again, right now. Now, and in my undergrad, I ran into several times that I was able to examine and re-examine things like prestige in educational institutions. What I came to realize is the old saw about polishing pebbles and dulling diamonds is even more true when you apply it to higher prestige institutions. They seem to be so set on turning out whatever is cutting edge that they forget about the fundamentals, they teach the zebras and don't even mention the horses.
But, for someone to teach, there also has to be a student. And, in my experience as a medical educator (granted, only CPR, first aid, EMT-Basic, and ACLS) it's about a 60/40 +- 30 split between teacher and student responsibility for information. Could be slightly different in med school, but what this means is that it is as much the students' responsibility as the teacher. You can get great doctors from not-so-great institutions, and I would argue that more great doctors come from not-so-great institutions. This is because it is in many ways, what you make of your education.
So, the take home message is work hard. Don't take no shit offa nobody. Justification for your choice at this point doesn't change anything other than satiate desires that are ancillary to what life is really about. Just go live and do.
Posted by: Jared Solomon | Nov 7, 2006 10:53:08 PM
Hey I just wanted to say that your post was inspiring. I also weas looking into going to a Carribean school. But my reasons for mine's are just a bit different from yours. One of my professors here at my undergrad school mentioned to me about a program in Cuba where African American students can go there for free. Now I did not look too much into yet because when I did so my mentor, which is a practicing physician, suggested that I do not follow through with those plans. Well the fact that you have stated that there are good schools in the Carribeans have made me more than amp to research it some more. Good luck and I hope that you make. You will be in my prayers.
Posted by: Keniesha B. | Nov 9, 2006 8:44:36 AM
Wow, great post! You hit it right on target with your comment about motivation.
I have been a silent lurker of your blog and just wanted to let you know that I enjoy it.
Posted by: Sarah Bellham | Nov 10, 2006 12:35:42 PM
Excellent post!!!! You make Ross graduates/students proud!!
Posted by: Atman Shah | Nov 10, 2006 4:37:57 PM
I ADMIRE YOU FOR YOUR DECISION TO GO TO ROSS UNIV. BIG NAMES DO CARRY THEIR WEIGHT BUT ULTIMATELY ITS HOW GOOD A DOCTOR YOU ARE AND HOW WELL YOU CARE FOR YOUR PATIENTS. I HAVE SPENT ALL MY LIFE WORKING IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH DOCTORS AND I CAN SAY GOOD HUMANE DOCTORS CAN COME FROM SMALL & LESSER KNOWN UNIVERSITIES TOO JUST AS NO GOOD DOCTORS CAN COME FROM TOP UNIVERSITIES FROM ANY WHERE IN THE WORLD.I FEEL EVERY DOCTOR SHOULD SEE ROBIN WILLIAMS MOVY "PATCH ADAMS" TO REALISE THAT THE PATIENTS ARE HUMANS AND HAVE SELF RESPECT THEY ARE NOT JUST NUMBERS ON THEIR CHARTS.
Posted by: Moti Gurbaxani | Nov 13, 2006 10:31:16 PM
hope you weren't planning on going into something competitive... and you dont mind a lot of your future collegues looking down on you for not being 'traditional'. otherwise, best of luck to you. its encouraging to see someone choose the road-less-traveled, especially when its their choice.
Posted by: jonas | Nov 14, 2006 5:38:07 PM
Excellent post. I am currently a 5th semester attending Ross University. I decided to attend Ross University because I also did not want to wait to reapply for a second time. I had also heard great things about the personal attention from the professors. My favorite aspect about Ross is the fact that the professors TAKE the TIME to make sure you learn and enjoy the basic science material. On more than one occasion I was in office hours long after 5pm, often having dinner or coffee by the ocean with a WHITE BOARD learning paths and answering questions. The faculty at Ross are either old and love their job, or young and excited about teaching. It's a perfect place for people who want to become a caring competent physician instead of worrying about the name behind it. However, you must be a patient person as well, with the stress of studying in a third world country.
Posted by: Katrina Johnson | Nov 14, 2006 5:40:09 PM
Hi kendra! i am thinking VERY seriously about attenting ross u. Thanks for all your insightful posts! I know you will do well and just stay positive. also, i was wondering if i could ask you some questions about admissions. my email is [email protected] if you could just e-mail me with a yes or no it would be appreciated.
ps i know you are busy but it would be so helpful to actually talk to a student in med school! thanks,
Posted by: brandy | Nov 14, 2006 6:01:46 PM
Also, if anyone else reads the comment below and attends Ross, feel free to e-mail at that address! I have contacted admissions but talking to actual students would better! ~brandy
Posted by: brandy | Nov 14, 2006 6:06:46 PM
I too attend a Carribean medical school, but not Ross. I have heard all of the same ridicule that you have, and then some. But, touche, I make them eat their words in the clinical setting when I know more and do better with the patients than do my US counterparts who have attended the namebrand American schools. I did not have the luxury of having the reputation of a school behind me, in fact, I had to overcome the preconception that I was just too stupid to get into a US school. Such is not the case at all. I chose a Carribean school, on purpose (gasp)! My husband is career military and I have a small child. The US schools that I interviewed with did not want to play nice with a family situation like that. I had asked about taking a temp. LOA if my husband was deployed during any part of my education. I received the cold shoulder after that. I did not get that attitude from the Carribean school. My husband was deployed to Iraq for 14 months during my second semester of medical school, and the academic committee at the Univ. bent over backwards to make sure that I was accomodated. So, I fully agree with you, kendra. The Caribbean has been given a black eye unjustly in many cases. Oh, and just in case anyone is wondering, yes I am doing all of my clerkships in the US, and I have gotten honors in every clerkship so far. I only have 4 electives to go. Not too bad for someone who "must have been too stupid to get into a US school."
Posted by: Melissa | Nov 14, 2006 6:54:04 PM
Your comments are much appreciated.
I am about to graduate from Ross after 4 long years. I wasn't the brightest tool in the box and my undergrad grades weren't the best ... I knew that I wouldn't make the US med school cut so I decided on Ross because of their reputation: Providing a viable opportunity for someone like me to excel and pursue a career in medicine.
Dominica is both hard and beautiful but you make of it what you will. You will see a relatively large attrition in your freshman class but those that have the drive and stick with it turn out to be some of the most caring and passionate physicians that I have ever met.
I have done well and passed both Steps and have excellent clinical evaluations. I am in the middle of interview season right now and am having trouble scheduling all of the interview offers I have. Yes, not having the prestige of a US medical school will follow you around for 4 years but you will note that, as long as you never forget why you decided to do this, your attendings and residents won't care where you came from...they will care about the important stuff: can you build a rapport with your patients; is your medical knowledge base such that you can handle most things and, the biggest of them all: do you know when to ask for help. Never be afraid to say I don't know....but then, never say "I don't know" twice to the same question!
Good luck. You have an incredible road to travel and it will be full of pitfalls. Never let a bad day bring you down and never forget that your medical education is what you make of it, not where you went.
Posted by: Kari | Nov 14, 2006 7:02:42 PM
Thanks for telling us all about your feelings and the facts about going to a Caribbean medical school! Also, I love that you told us, bluntly, the feelings of what a doctor should carry into his or her practice. Bravo!
Posted by: Thesanica | Nov 14, 2006 9:27:39 PM
As a resident, I am very unimpressed with every Carribean medical student that has rotated here. Get what knowledge you can and transfer to a real medical school...that is the best advise I can give you.
Posted by: Brian | Nov 15, 2006 7:38:51 AM
I am very unimpressed with a resident who cannot spell the word advice and cannot take him seriously.
Posted by: Wally C. | Nov 15, 2006 11:38:51 AM
A resident who cannot spell the word advice and still feels competent enough to judge Caribbean schools 'unimpressive' should indeed open his mind and loose this stupid hubris that characterizes bad doctors...
Besides even if this is not the main subject of this post, am I the only one here to be shocked by the fact that, nowadays in the US, the financial aspect has to supplant the qualities of a person like Kendra when it comes to entering any med school?
Posted by: sylvain | Nov 15, 2006 12:28:58 PM
Thanks for this post, and defusing common rumors. Also, I've noticed that the people who come to medicine a little older, with a little more life experience, are MUCH better at dealing with patients.
Posted by: sara | Nov 15, 2006 12:48:37 PM
I am a graduate of St. George's in Grenada. I absolutely loved my med school experience and feel lucky to have trained in such an interesting place. I an now a subspecialty attending physican and have had no problems passing any of the tests. Fellow students with me have also gone on to my specialized fields as well. I think going to the caribbean really makes you appreciate your education and its a positive life changing event.
Thoroughout my training and experience I have found one thing to be true. That is, it's not where you go to med school, its what you choose to do with it.
As for American medical schools, there are many deserving students who are there, but trust me if you ask around you will find many of them have parents as physicians and you can bet that their daddy or mommy had something to do with them getting in. Not to mention many of their personalities suck.
Posted by: John | Nov 15, 2006 1:17:15 PM
I think there are good and bad doctors in every country, no matter what school they attended or what residency program they finished. In the end, your patient won't care where your degree came from but rather, how you can aid him on his journey to recovery.
Posted by: | Nov 15, 2006 2:01:00 PM
I am trying to get into Medical school, but in my province (Canadian here!!) they let in such a limited amount - and those are usually children of doctors. Caribbean schools sound interesting - where would I look for more info?
Posted by: Carolyn | Nov 15, 2006 6:48:09 PM
I am surprised that a person like Sylvain can be so vain to make such comments. Be sure of your own grammar and punctuations before pretending to be the Master of the English language. Throwing big words around does not make you an adult or an authority. Besides, a person who confuses Kendra to be a "he" should never be a physician. You can only qualify as a sour grape.
However, I do agree that doctors need to have a better command of the English language to gain respect from the scientific world.
Posted by: Dr. J Lee | Nov 16, 2006 1:19:10 AM
I am a graduate of medical school in other words a GP now;)I like to know if there is any opporunity for residency in a caribbean university.you can contact me via the following mail
Posted by: Armen | Nov 18, 2006 12:05:15 AM
I am a MS2 student from the José María Vargas School of Medicne from the Universidad Central of Venezuela, the best school of medicine in Venezuela. I find it great that you study in a caribbean school, in these schools you can actually learn a lot, contrary to what many people think. Your article was great. I really enjoyed it.
Posted by: Alberto R. Zambrano U. | Nov 18, 2006 7:36:42 AM
I am an International Medical graduate from India.
its getting tougher to get observerships at US hospitals for gaining USCE.How is the experience at Carribean Med Schools counted while evaluation for Match for residency by us med schools?Are there positions available at your school for a International med graduate?
Do inform me soon.Wish you good times.
Posted by: SHRIRAM LOKARE | Nov 18, 2006 8:44:53 AM
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