I aim to be as honest as possible in this post. I cannot do that without stating that this is a reflection on my personal choices and while you may be reading this for a variety of reasons- if any of them include guidance, then take this with a grain of salt. Even if your journey to becoming a doctor seems incredibly similar, you feel like we’re in the same boat, we’re still different people with different upbringings and different personalities. I never really considered how that could impact who I blindly took advice from until now. Why did I choose a Caribbean medical school to obtain my MD? The simplest answer is because I did not want to wait. I’m 22, turning 23 in August of 2019.
I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in May of 2018, and my initial goal was to start medical school in September of 2018. That did not happen. The first time I took the MCAT was my senior year of undergrad. Most pre-med students take it for the first time their junior year of undergrad. I could not take it my junior year because I had yet to take higher elective biology classes for my major that would also be tested on the MCAT. Some people, depending on the courses and the path they take throughout college, have those core courses completed by their 3rd year. Others do not.
I did not personally feel prepared to take the MCAT without having an introduction to those classes through school. Others were willing to teach those topics to themselves and had that work for them. In March of 2018, I took the MCAT. My score was released on May 1st, 2018, a day before the deadline for the three U.S. medical schools that were still accepting new student applications. I used that score (average percentile) to apply to all three. It was almost the end of the spring semester, so the GPA that the schools saw was everything before the spring semester aka the classes I was enrolled in at that time.
My GPA was high. My science GPA was mediocre. Please keep in mind that I am referring to mediocre according to U.S. medical school standards. The average science GPA they expect is a 3.4+ the average overall GPA ranges from 3.4-4.0+ depending on the grading scale. What is the difference between a science GPA and a regular GPA? Your science GPA is the average of solely the hard science-based classes you took as pre-requisites for medical school. (i.e., Organic Chemistry, General Biology, Genetics, Bio Stats, Microbiology, etc.)
If you know what medical schools you want to apply to ahead of time, please look up their course requirements as some courses such as Calculus and Physics can vary among schools. Unfortunately, for me, Pace University required B.S. Biology majors to take up to Calc II and Physics II in order to receive their degree. So even if the medical school I was applying to did not require it, I had to take it for my major. I am very challenged with math and by extension physics which is math on steroids. I worked extremely hard to achieve as much as a letter grade of B in those courses. The point of this explanation being, the courses I did extremely well in (Biochem! I will never stop bragging about that because I worked insanely hard and understood the content) and the courses I did not do as well in averaged each other out.
BUT. I did NOT apply to a Caribbean school because of my MCAT score or grades. This is where I am most often asked then WHY would I put myself in a Caribbean school without further pursuing U.S. based options. ESPECIALLY if I had the potential grades and test scores to obtain admissions into U.S. schools? Firstly, I did. I applied to three schools and while that may not have been the greatest amount or range of schools- I was not accepted to any of them. The Caribbean medical schools are unique in many ways, but one of the biggest ways they differ from traditional U.S. based medical schools is that they have three semester start dates in a calendar year whereas the U.S. schools have just one.
Secondly, why not take the MCAT again if I got a great score the first time and improve my chances of getting accepted for the second cycle? The second cycle would mean starting med school in Sept of 2019 should I have gotten accepted. I pursued this as well. In September of 2018, I took the MCAT for a second time. I got my score in early October. While it had improved, it had not changed dramatically. Should I have taken the chance on the score and applied to schools and not have gotten in, I would have to wait until Sept 2020 to start medical school. If I got in to any school with either the same score but applying to a different cycle OR if I had taken the MCAT a third time in the hopes of getting a massively higher score. That would be the difference between finishing JUST medical school, not residency, at 28. I have consistently been sure of my decision to go to medical school and very dedicated to my goal of becoming an MD. It was senseless, to me, the idea of doing something else to fill time while I was applying and waiting to hear back from responses. There were other methods of being able to start what my ultimate goal was- why would I put it off? There was no compelling reason for me to truly avoid Caribbean schools.
This is where you have to be honest with yourself. I changed several factors between the way I studied the first and second time for the MCAT. The test is ruthless, 7.5 hours long and tests you on hundreds of concepts in the span of a single sitting. It was torture and preparing for it was equally painful. The likelihood of my score changing significantly was low. Additionally, I would have to explain to any admissions officer why it took me three attempts at the MCAT to obtain the score I did. It was not a great option. Neither was waiting until 2020. So I took a leap of faith.
A few days after getting my score in October, I applied to the January semester start term at Ross University School of Medicine as well as St. George’s University School of Medicine. I was fortunate to have family friends that attended both schools and could provide me firsthand information as alumni. I listened to their experiences and conducted my research and determined it was worth it to go for the interview should I get one. Fast forward a few days, and I was excited to see I got interview opportunities for both schools. Fast forward a week after my interviews, and I had gotten acceptance into both schools. Why Ross? They were offering me a strong scholarship in addition to the admission.
Fast forward to starting school here: I am so glad I did. I have already met so many people who were excellent students during their undergraduate career, who scored anywhere from the 50th-99th percentile on the MCAT, students who worked alongside doctors for years and students who dedicated their time as EMT’s, working firsthand with patients and having learnt procedures the rest of us are only now being exposed to. The point? Caribbean schools may be a last resort choice for some, but not all. There are thousands of U.S. and Canada based students here who all have personal stories as to how they ended up here. None of them have to do with the students being incompetent. None of them have to do with the students being, “less than.” No, I am not just saying this because I go here.
It is difficult to admit for me that before I was put in a position where I had to consider a Caribbean school, I thought poorly of them. It was taboo to think anything else of them. From the perspective of society, they were lower-tiered and lesser of a medical school than ones in the U.S. This negative perspective and mentality does nothing but belittle the future doctors that will be attending to your health. The majority percentage of Caribbean medical students return to the United States to practice. 9 times out of 10, a patient does not inquire nor really care where their doctor went to school. The reason being: medicine is a universal art. The human body is a standardized machine. Sure, there are different methods and techniques and ways to learn how to address the complications and problems that arise within an individual but learning to treat those conditions have less to do with where you went to school and more to do with how much effort you put into the skills you are learning.