PART TWO – THERE IS A SOLUTION
Before I delve into the main benefits of an international medical program, I must draw attention to what it is NOT and what we are not promoting here. When referring to international medical schools I am NOT referring to renovated apartment buildings on tropical islands where there are usually less than 30 faculty and students mostly teach themselves. I am referring to large, international universities that are hundreds of years old with many departments and hundreds of professors on the faculty – many of whom have PhD level training. I am talking about universities that have been teaching students from their own countries for many years, and are opening their doors to international students.
The difference is significant, because the level of instruction and the quality of education are vastly different. Foreign medical graduates have had a mixed reception in the States. It is important to realize that we are now talking about a new generation of students who are deciding to proactively move ahead in their educational careers. They are going to medical school after high school – taking the bull by the horns. They are honors students at the top of their classes. They are finishing earlier than their US counterparts and performing as well on their medical board exams. These are NOT the same students who find themselves with dubious options at the end of an unsuccessful undergraduate experience. Unfortunately those students who do not look at their options early in the educational pathway will not have many options later.
Genuine international medical universities provide solutions in the following areas: accessibility of education, length of study, affordability, hands-on experience and global recognition
All over the world, schools function within the ‘economics of education’. U.S. colleges and universities are increasing the numbers of international students because they are “full-pay” and “cash only”. The same is true for higher educational institutions around the world. In almost every country, international students mean more money for day-to-day operation, expansion, research and development. This is the reality of ‘educational economics’ and it tends to favor international applicants. That is good news for US students seeking to enroll overseas. Furthermore, many international medical schools have a holistic approach to evaluating applicants where weakness in one part of an application can be made-up by strength in another part. All of this bodes well for US high school students who want to study abroad. It means that US students can have access to very high quality education overseas. This type of education in the US would be extremely competitive for US students wanting to study in the States.
Another advantage for US students looking to go overseas for medical school is they do not have to take the MCAT (Medical College Aptitude Test). Around the world, schools take a broader view of international applicants including transcripts, performance trends, personal statements, letters of recommendation, placement tests and personal interviews. Finally, in most countries with international programs, the school system is supported by the government; and most foreign governments have large budgets for education. They have the ability to expand facilities in order to accommodate larger numbers of students, which means that there is less competition between students for admission since there are more available seats.
The US and Canada are almost the only countries in the world that have the system of four-year undergraduate + four-year graduate education. Concerning medical education in the US, almost all medical schools are recommending one year of experience in the field before applying to medical school. For most students, that means four years of undergraduate plus one year of field-experience plus four years of medical school; or nine years to get an MD degree. In most countries in Europe and Asia, students go onto (extended) graduate study immediately after high school. There is no formal undergraduate education; instead the graduate education is from 5 to 7 years in length.
This has two distinct advantages for US students seeking to study medicine abroad: first, they can complete their medical education in 6 or 7 years after high school (compared to 9 years in the US). Students studying in Europe and Asia begin their medical education after secondary school (high school). Compared to their American counterparts, graduates from these international medical programs save something money cannot buy – 2 years of their lives. This is the solution for the question in PART ONE – this is how students can get a world-class education in less time without sacrificing content or quality.
At the same that the length of study is shortened, it is worth noting that students get to focus on the appropriate material for a longer period of time. Because the theoretical and clinical education is distributed over six or seven years and not crammed into four years, the students have the chance to learn and understand instead of simply memorizing material and regurgitating it for exams. International graduates from real universities will typically say that they were very well educated and the USMLE was not as bad as they had predicted. A trip to any hospital or clinic will be enough to see that nearly one half of all practicing physicians in the US are foreign medical graduates.
Generally speaking, there are great and ancient universities around the world where the cost (tuition and room/board) is much less expensive than in the US. In Asia, for example, tuition rates begin around $5000 per year. Tuition rates in EU-standardized medical schools range from $3,500 to $12,000 to $20,000 per year – in many universities, classes are offered in English for international students. Of course, one can find famous and expensive universities, but these are not the focus of this article. We are discussing the differences between US schools and study abroad. We are focusing on the opportunities that can be found when doing some smart shopping for a higher education. By selecting educational institutions based on quality of education and degree conferred, students can have the best of both worlds. They can enjoy a wonderful study abroad experience, graduate with a globally recognized degree while saving time and money. Availability of such programs makes it financially possible for many families to provide their children with a high quality, fully-accredited and affordable medical education.
Most international medical schools provide students with a practical education. Students in international medical schools get valuable and useful ‘hands-on’ experience that their American counterparts do not get until after graduation, in residency. For example, there is little chance of a medical student being allowed to do surgery or deliver a baby in the US, while it is common (if not required) for students to learn these skills in medical school in other countries. Since medicine is a ‘hands-on’ profession, this is logically the most effective way for students to learn – just think about it.
After successful completion of the Board Exams (USMLE), international medical graduates are allowed to join a residency in the States. Graduates from a medical school within the EU can automatically practice in any other EU country with no extra certification – or in the U.S. after passing the USMLE and completing a residency. Thus international medical degrees enable graduates to play a more active role in global healthcare picture, such as WHO – World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, and International Red Cross.
There has been a shift in the system of ‘importing’ international grads to the US. There used to be many extra hurdles for IMG’s to clear in order to get licensed in the US. Today, due to severe and dangerous physician shortages, the medical credentialing board in the US has dropped all the extra requirements of foreign grads. IMG’s have to pass the same exams as US grads. There are no extra hurdles. In fact, the impending doctor shortages are so severe and dangerous that the US credentialing board has removed the English language proficiency requirement as a separate requirement. There is no longer a separate English language exam for IMG’s. This is illustrative of the desire the US has to attract IMG’s. Grades and exam scores being equal, IMG’s with US passports will be at the front of the line to come back, since the residency programs prefer not to sponsor foreign IMG’s visas.
Experts predict that the US will import 200,000 foreign medical graduates in the next 25 years – why not be one of them? You have only to think globally and for the future. The typical pathway of high school to undergraduate to medical school is not the only way. On the contrary, it is unsure, very long and MUCH too expensive for most students. There are so many students with the potential to be great doctors. We hope they will open their eyes to the possibilities of an international education.