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Doctors Who Can't Place in US Medical Schools: A Second Chance in the Caribbean

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First Posted: Aug 10, 2014 02:00 PM EDT
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(Photo : Facebook/Coast Caribbean Images Facebook Page)

Some doctors are having a second chance at getting into medical school, and the opportunity lies in the Caribbean.

Securing a place into any medical school these days is very competitive. St. George's University, located in the Caribbean, is becoming the "safety" college for those students who cannot get into certain medical colleges in the U.S. because either they cannot afford it or the wait for placement is too long.

Can St. George's University really help some medical students? The university and its students see it as a fighting chance.

Trying to get into a U.S. college is like waiting in agony. One student, Corinne Vidulich, discussed her agony of being on a waiting list to get into the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Vidulich was on the list for nine months, The New York Times reported.

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"They let me know the week before the term started that I didn't get in," Vidulich said. "It was crushing."

But now Vidulich, among many other students, are attending the St. George's University School of Medicine. This University has emerged in the Caribbean over the last four decades, and its intent was to catch the overflow of American students who could not find a medical school in their home country.

Another admittance story into St. George's University involved Stephen Franco. Franco had careless study habits, which had earned him a C average in biology and chemistry at Binghamton University. Franco's grades were not good enough to get him into any medical schools that he applied to in the U.S., The New York Times reported.

But St. George's University gave him a chance. They offered him conditional admission, a four-month preview of courses and a money-back-guarantee if he did not pass. Franco passed. During that time, Franco was petrified that he would not do well, but his mother consoled him. Now, Franco is entering into his third-year as an honors student, and he has dreams to take over his father's internal medicine practice in Brooklyn.

It seems like St. George's University might help struggling students after all. So far the university has invested in the students and has done so by paying hospitals to take their students to work on the hospitals' third- and fourth-year clinical rotations, residencies. St. George's has entered into a $100 million 10-year contract with the hospital corporations for 600 spots.

Ordinarily, rotations are free. The last academic year saw the university place 2,326 students in rotations in 98 American cities, The New York Times reported. While for decades American medical schools have been less than kind to the Caribbean medical fraternity, now this establishment might be changing the game.

There is a caveat to St. George's success -- and with that of a medical school in the Caribbean. The talent is all over the place. According to a 2008 study in the journal of Academic Medicine, it examined 14 schools and found that the first-time pass rate on the exam had ranged from 19 percent to 84 percent.

The countries of schools that performed the lowest were the Cayman Islands, Haiti, Cuba, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Lucia, which hosted four medical schools at that time. The highest performers were in Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica and Grenada.

Can working at a hospital in the Caribbean translate to residencies working in the U.S.? Perhaps. Between 1980 and 2000, 12 of the biggest Caribbean schools had the percentage of graduates who fulfilled the basic requirements, ranging from 28 percent to 86 percent, The New York Times reported.

But this year, only 53 percent of U.S. citizens who attended foreign medical schools -- most of them in the Caribbean -- were placed through the National Resident Matching Program -- in comparison with 94 percent of students from U.S. schools.

This means that as of now the amount of medical students who find placements or residencies is lower. It does not necessarily mean, however a decrease in education, but it could mean more competition because of the recent addition of Caribbean medical schools in the mix.

A Canadian investor Atlas Partners just injected funding into the Grenadian branch of the university as advised by Baring Private Equity Asia, Reuters PE HUB reported. The amount of money is undisclosed.

At the moment, there are more than 70 medical schools across the Caribbean, and approximately half of them cater to Americans. And a handful of them -- including St. George's University, Saba University, Ross University in Dominica and American University of the Caribbean in St. Maarten -- operate for-profit, and they have qualified for U.S. federal financial aid programs.

It has been reported that there are high numbers of test takers, 95 percent or more, that pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam Step 1, which is a basic science test, The New York Times reported.

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