Why You Should Study Medicine in the Caribbean – 3 Case Studies
Have you considered studying Medicine in the Caribbean?
It can be a big step to take and you might therefore have some questions about what to consider before making a decision.
We caught up with graduates from Saba University School of Medicine, the Medical University of the Americas and St. Matthew’s University, to hear about their experiences.
They told us about their motivations for studying in the Caribbean, what they enjoyed most and some of the challenges they faced along the way. Read on to have your queries answered!
Robert Wilson, Stephen Morais and Suy sen Hung Fong are graduates from Saba University School of Medicine.
What motivated you to study at Saba University?
Robert: I remember a period of uncertainty following my bachelor’s degree. I had a below average score on my MCAT and didn’t receive any interviews after applying for medical school in Canada. I was in the midst of my 5th year at my university when I came across Saba University. I ended up applying because I knew it would be an adventure and a great story to tell. It was also important that the school had accreditation in the US and Canada.
Suy: I originally thought I would be a family medicine doctor. Because of my not-so-good MCAT score, I was not able to get into a US medical school and so I decided to look into the Caribbean route. When I did my research into the four top Caribbean medical schools, I learnt that Saba University was the most affordable and had the least distractions on the island.
How was the USMLE Step 1 preparation at Saba University?
Suy: Saba University prepared us well for the USMLE Step 1 exam, he says. They were very on point with the prep materials and taught us great study habits and great discipline.
Stephen: I felt very well prepared for the USMLE Step 1 exam. I developed good study habits on the island, and was very happy with my score.
What did you most enjoy about studying at Saba University?
Stephen: Saba University was fun. I came from a small island, which made the transition a bit easier. I made great friends and study groups. We played a lot of sports, hockey every Friday, scuba diving, tennis and football. It’s an intense curriculum; friends and social activities provided balance and helped make it an enjoyable experience.
Robert: I think the environment at Saba University facilitates success. There are hardly any distractions on the island and you’re surrounded by people who are all striving for the same goal.
Suy: When I came to the school I had all the resources that I needed; it was comfortable and I had a beautiful view. The island is peaceful and the people were always really nice. I actually liked everything about Saba.
What would you tell incoming students about Saba University?
Stephen: I’m really enjoying the career path I’ve chosen. The curriculum at Saba University has provided me with the opportunity to do very well on both the USMLE and MCCQE exams. It also provides flexibility and opportunities for clinical rotations that align with your career goals. It’s a fun adventure.
Robert: My decision to attend Saba University is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s given me the opportunity to work in a field that I find challenging, fulfilling and exciting. In addition to that, I met amazing people on the island, including one of my best friends and my wife. It’s a great story to tell.
Zubin Bham, Colleen Pietras and Samantha Agar are all graduates from Medical University of the Americas. They have all successfully completed their MD program and secured residencies at outstanding hospitals. The graduates shared their thoughts on why they chose to study in the Caribbean.
How did you find out about studying in the Caribbean and what attracted you to it?
Samantha: Before attending Medical University of the Americas, I was a registered nurse in labor and delivery, and the neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital in Mississauga. I worked with a resident at my hospital who told me that she attended medical school in the Caribbean. I didn’t really know much about Caribbean medical schools. She had gone to MUA and highly recommended it.
Colleen: I was very motivated to get back on a professional track in order to complete my medical degree having not been in education for ten years. I had been out of a formal classroom for so long that I was searching for personalization and small class sizes. MUA offered the opportunity to begin the semester in January along with a unique and quiet environment to learn in which seemed ideal to me.
What did you like about studying in the Caribbean and MUA?
Samantha: There were students from all around the world and the diversity was great and so positive. I was also able to get involved with volunteer work on the island. As a result, I won the “Premier of Nevis” award.
Colleen: I now know that there are many medical schools in the Caribbean. I was told, as with any risk, it would be what I made of it. The professors were well-educated and enthusiastic. Many were taking a sabbatical from medical schools in the U.S., so the quality was undeniable. During my time at MUA, I was fortunate to have a solid and supportive group of educators. The island was serene and beautiful. Nevisians are warm and genuine. Once they befriend you, they take you in and make you family. Their generosity was often unfathomable.
How did studying help you to progress onto your residency?
Zubin: I scored in the 99th percentile for both my USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exam which allowed me to interview broadly. I wanted to stay in the northeast, and I ranked Norwalk Hospital (part of the Yale Academic Group) number one on my list. My residency was fantastic.
Colleen: I am grateful every day for the opportunities I have been given, for the privilege to learn from the most brilliant and talented surgeons in the world, and to my patients. Their trust in our dedication and determination to improve their lives has made all the sacrifice worthwhile. MUA was the steppingstone for me and it holds a special place in my heart as a result. Because of MUA, I was able to gain a General Surgery residency.
What would be your advice for incoming medical students?
Samantha: My advice to students who come to MUA is to get involved as much as possible, you will meet some amazing people and get to be part of a tight knit community and family that you will never forget. Nevis is a beautiful island that is home to some of the friendliest people. I couldn’t ask for a better place to study medicine and start my career as a physician.
Zubin: Go where there is a personalized program, where you can ask the professors your questions in class and get your answers directly. Go to a school where they figure out your learning style and help you learn, and you interact directly with your professors. At the big schools you have to self-teach, and watch lectures online.
Dr. Neer Dhillon and Dr. Sarah Wilson are both graduates of St. Matthew’s University. Neer graduated from the MD program whereas Sarah graduated from the DVM program. They shared their experiences of living and studying in the Caribbean.
What motivated you to study an MD or DVM program?
Neer: I decided to study medicine when I was in my third year at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. I graduated from there with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Psychology.
Sarah: Being a veterinarian was a lifelong dream of mine, and I took steps my entire educational career to fulfil that dream. St. Matthew’s University allowed me to reach that ultimate goal, and I will forever be thankful for the opportunity and education attained there!
Why did you choose to study at SMU in particular?
Neer: I chose SMU for the small class size, and the fact that it was on a great island. I saw that they had a high USMLE Step 1 pass rate (the average first-time pass rate between 2015 and 2019 was 95%) and great residency placements. I didn’t know anyone when I came so it was a big step.
Sarah: One of the draws of SMU was the ability to attend either an American or Canadian veterinary school during your clinical year. Also, SMU professors are genuinely interested in each students’ success. They provided teaching assistants for students who needed help with the material and offered teaching assistant positions for students who excelled and needed financial support.
What are some of the challenges of studying medical programs?
Neer: You do have to study every day, but I found that the block exams we took every three weeks really helped reinforce information and ultimately prepared us for the USMLE Step 1 Exam.
What did you most enjoy about studying in the Caribbean and at SMU?
Neer: I did everything that the island offered. There are beautiful beaches and I took boat excursions, went snorkelling and saw starfish out at Rum Point. I had rented a house by the beach with another student and we would enjoy the beach after exams.
Sarah: I really appreciated that SMU had clubs with extra-curricular activities to augment learning while on the island. I participated in many clubs of a typical veterinary school in North America. I was also able to work with the Department of the Environment of the Cayman Islands. This ability to participate with the locals and improve the magnificent Caribbean environment sets SMU apart.
What are your long-term ambitions?
Neer: My goal is to pursue a fellowship in reproductive endocrine infertility. I recently matched into an Ob-Gyn residency at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Queens Hospital which will help me achieve my ambitions.
Sarah: I hope to join colleagues as a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and bring clinical nutrition to the forefront of caring for hospitalized and healthy pets. I’ve truly enjoyed every step of my career thus far and am excited for what the future holds. I know that St. Matthew’s University played a major role in my success and would recommend others take the first step towards their ultimate goals!
MUA is located on Nevis, an island in the Caribbean. MUA is accredited by Accreditation Commission on Colleges of Medicine (ACCM) which, along with key state approvals, allows its students to study in all US states and, for Canadians, all provinces.