Whether traveling halfway around the world or taking a 7-hour flight to reach an offshore U.S. region, more students are leaving the country to attend medical school abroad. And although MD programs outside of the United States not be the best fit for every premed student, there are a number of reasons why students choose this option. For a while now, misconceptions about medical schools outside of the U.S. have warped students’ perceptions, making them uncomfortable with choosing this alternative path to their medical education. As you probably already know, not everyone practicing medicine in this country completes their medical education in this country. Indeed, renowned physician Deepak Chopra graduated from an international medical school. In the United States, nearly a quarter of the physician work force was trained in a foreign country, according to the most recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. So let’s discuss some things that are,
and are not true about attending medical school outside of the United States.

STUDENTS ATTEND MEDICAL SCHOOL ABROAD BECAUSE THEY CAN’T GET INTO ONE IN THE U.S.

NOT TRUE. Nowadays, students have more options than ever when it comes to pursuing a degree in medicine. Today, a significantly greater number of students are turning to medical schools outside of the U.S. to fulfill their dreams of becoming a doctor. It is also worth mentioning that there are a number of students who are accepted by U.S. medical schools but ultimately decide to enroll elsewhere around the world. There are plenty of different reasons why students choose to attend a non-U.S. medical school. Some may not want to wait another year to apply to medical school and take advantage rolling admission offered by some schools. Others simply like the idea of having the opportunity to live on a beautiful island somewhere while pursuing their medical degree. But those are not the only reasons. Students’ decisions may also be guided by factors like the cost of attendance, accelerated programs, and non-competitive admission criteria.

HAVING A DEGREE FROM A MEDICAL SCHOOL OUTSIDE THE U.S. IS NOT AS GOOD AS ONE GRANTED BY A U.S. INSTITUTION

NOT TRUE. Students who attend medical school abroad still have to take the USMLE Step exams if they plan on returning to the U.S. to practice medicine. With overall pass rates for the USMLE Step 1 among non-U.S. students being significantly lower than those trained in the U.S., it is easy to think that international medical are not as good as the ones in the ones in the U.S. Yes, it’s true -exam pass rates differ considerably between US and non-U.S. medical students. In 2011, 93% of US graduates passed their USMLE Step 1 first time, compared to 64% of non- US Graduates. But don’t let that scare you because there are some very good non-U.S. medical schools that graduate students who perform just as well, if not better, than their U.S. counterparts. For example, students from Ross University School of Medicine, one of the biggest offshore medical schools in the Caribbean, achieved a 96% first-time pass rate on the USMLE Step 1. A recent press release quoted dean and chancellor of Ross University as saying “Our students’ performance on USMLE Step 1 meets or exceeds the rate achieved by students in U.S. medical schools.” St. George’s University, another popular non-U.S. medical school, reported a 95% USMLE Step 1 pass rate among their students. What it comes down to is that not all medical schools outside of the U.S. are created equal so DO YOUR RESEARCH! It is important that not only do you find out what a school’s pass rates are but also their residency match numbers.

RESIDENCY MATCH RATES ARE LOWER THAN U.S.-TRAINED GRADUATES

TRUE. While residency match rates can be drastically  lower among internationally-trained medical students, the good news is that last year, it was announced that of the number of U.S. citizen international medical graduates increased by 218 over 2011, making it the ninth consecutive year that there has been an increase in the number of U.S. citizens matching to first-year position. According to the 2012 Residency Match Report published by the National Resident Matching Program, the top eight specialties filled by U.S. citizens and graduates of international medical schools were Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Obstetrics-Gynecology, Anesthesiology, Surgery, and Emergency Medicine.

APPLICANTS DO NOT NEED TO TAKE THE MCAT TO GAIN ADMISSION

NOT TRUE. There are a number of medical schools outside of the United States to do not require applicants to submit MCAT scores. However, to be regarded as competitive as U.S. medical schools, most reputable non-U.S. medical schools require prospective students to submit MCAT scores for admission. For other reasons having to do with compliance with governmental regulations, schools like American University of Antigua are changing their admission criteria and will soon require MCAT scores from all accepted students.

TUITION AVERAGES THE SAME AS THE COST OF U.S. SCHOOLS

TRUE. Amid growing concern about the cost of medical school, students are thinking more seriously about ways to lower the price tag attached to their medical education. Attending medical school outside of the U.S., once a go to solution for many students, has become just as expensive as U.S. medical schools. Traditionally, medical schools abroad offered students the opportunity to obtain their degree at a significantly lower cost than their U.S. counterparts. However, times are changing and so is the cost of attending medical school outside of the U.S. In a report which examined trends among foreign medical schools, most of the tuition and fees reported by schools fell within the range of average cost for U.S. medical schools and in some cases reached as high as $90,000 per year. According to the AAMC Tuition and Student Fees Report for 2012-2013, medical school tuition in the U.S. alone can range from as little as $1,887 for residents attending a public university like West Virginia School of Medicine to as high as $54,980 for nonresidents attending a private university like Tufts University School of Medicine.

LENGTH OF STUDY IS SHORTER THAT MD PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.

NOT TRUE. The length of study required to complete medical training can differ substantially from school to school. However, the majority of schools model their curriculum after ones offered by U.S. medical schools and require students to complete a 4-year course of study. There are schools that do however offer medical students the chance to complete an accelerated course of study in as little as three-and-a-half years. In some cases, students spend as few as 16 months on the school’s campus and then return to the United States during their third and fourth years to complete clinical training.

A SPECIAL COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION REVIEWS NON-U.S. MEDICAL SCHOOLS

TRUE. With more than 2,300 medical schools in 177 countries worldwide, it’s no wonder that it will take over 10 years to roll out the new undertaking announced by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates to accredit the world’s international medical schools. Until that time comes, students will have to rely on the next best thing, namely the work of the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation (NCFMEA). While the NCFMEA does not review or accredit individual foreign medical schools, it does review the standards used by foreign countries to accredit medical schools and determine whether those standards are comparable to standards used to accredit medical schools in the United States. Ultimately, the committee determined that the following countries use accreditation standards comparable to those used by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education to evaluate U.S. medical schools: Australia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Czech Republic, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Hungary, India, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Nevis, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Saba, St. Maarten, Slovak Republic, Sweden, Taiwan, and United Kingdom. So, for those considering a foreign medical school, it is important check if that country’s accreditation standards for medical school are comparable to U.S. standards.

For a list of international medical schools visit the Web site for the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research at imed.faimer.org.