According to a 2016 Report released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), experts in the healthcare field warn of a coming shortage of physicians over the next decade. Projections show that there may be between 61,700 and 94,700 fewer doctors than needed, especially in areas like primary care, family medicine and surgical specialties. However, one growing source of medical professionals can help ease the shortfall. Approximately 8,000 graduates from Caribbean medical schools are licensed to practice in the United States. Graduates from Caribbean schools make up around 15% of new family medicine residents in the country.
Over the last 40 years, the Caribbean has seen steady growth in the number of medical schools in the region and the number of students seeking to study there. Because competition for spots in US medical schools is both competitive and expensive, Caribbean schools are helping more and more applicants find a way to pursue their dreams. There are now around 70 medical schools throughout Caribbean countries, about half of which cater to American students.
Caribbean schools draw a wide array aspiring medical professionals who wish to achieve their goals. A recent “New York Times” article described an increase in the number of US based students who went to Caribbean schools after a change of profession. A number of students studying in the Caribbean were older that traditional students in the United States. They brought real world experience from other specialties that rounded out their medical know-how with soft skills.
But, the relative ease of finding a spot in a Caribbean school does not mean a compromise in the quality of the education. A small but growing number of schools are accredited by standards recognized by the US Department of Education, declaring these programs as comparable to programs in the US. In addition, 95% of test takers from Caribbean schools pass the US Medical Licensing Exam Step 1.
Many Caribbean medical schools place heavy emphasis on patient communication and compassionate patient care. With a rising number of American patients saying that bedside manner is a problem with doctors in the United States, this approach is both timely and innovative. Doctors trained in the Caribbean get the opportunity to study in programs that balance professional skills with compassion and patient communication studies.
Students who train in these schools get the chance to study in a supportive atmosphere that allows them to gain the fullest education possible. Trinity School of Medicine, for instance, puts a heavy influence on support in the classroom, “saving the competition for the career,” allowing students to gain the knowledge they need to provide excellent clinical care when they move on to resident programs in the United States or elsewhere. The students also engage in outreach work between classes, helping them build the empathy that makes them efficient doctors with higher levels of patient satisfaction.
These schools also provide opportunities that are far more difficult to access at American schools. For example, while more and more med students are signing up for short-term global health experience (a matter of weeks), many Caribbean schools provide weekly access to under-served and developing regions in need of additional care. This not only bolsters local community health, it gives unparalleled experience to the students and often teaches them how to accomplish more, on the ground with patients, outside of a North American hospital setting.
When thinking of the future of medicine in the United States, medical schools in the Caribbean have a vital role to play. By providing quality education to a range of applicants, they can help bring more well-rounded physicians to the country. These doctors can help provide excellent care wherever it is needed and make sure that more patients have access to quality care.