By Mahesh Yaragatti
American students have the luxury of the “go-to” rankings when it comes to choosing colleges and graduate schools such as Forbes magazine, US News, Princeton Review, etc. And although I don’t actually believe in ranking schools, they do provide some sort of guide for prospective students. Over the last decade, the spawn of Caribbean medical schools have developed a bevy of followers as well.
Mahesh Yaragatti grew up in New Jersey and completed his pre-medical studies at Rutgers College. While attending his first two years of medical school in the Caribbean, he had the opportunity to visit several islands and schools and considers the Caribbean islands his second home
But ranking offshore medical schools has been a formidable if not futile task. As of 2013, there are 31 offshore schools on several island nations, but only 24 are recognized by both IMED and Avicenna directories. This is important because recognition allows these schools to permit students to register for the US medical board exam.
Normally, getting accepted into a US medical school usually meant that the school would try to do what it takes to make you a doctor. The major disparity in Caribbean medical schools is that they are not for higher education, but rather for-profit. This makes it that much more difficult to grade them and rank them for prospective students. For example, a low budget staff and faculty on a well-developed island may be suitable for some students, but others may prefer a more competitive environment with lesser than hospitable conditions.
And although there is a lot of information available online about these schools, they are saturated with opinions and slanted rhetoric. In fact, the idea of even collecting data from these schools seems useless, especially since a lot of the data is self-reported by the schools, making it very biased and therefore unreliable.
Medical schools like St George’s University (Grenada), American University of the Caribbean (St Maarten), and Ross University (Dominica) are the oldest offshore schools and often heralded as the top schools in the Caribbean in part because they offer US federal loans to their students. However, there are a lot of other Caribbean medical schools on various islands and it would be interesting to see how they measure up.
What any student really wants to know is what their chances are if they attend a particular school. Given the “hustling” nature of how most of these schools operate, using real factors like curriculum, faculty to student ratio, shelf exams, attrition rate, etc. would probably not be accurate (not to mention difficult to acquire from each school).
As shown as an example in Table 1, it might be possible to use very general parameters such as the following: (1) each school will boast the number of graduates it has, but the numbers do matter because that is really the backbone of a school’s reputation and standing; (2) an interesting point to make about these schools is that their environment and/or quality can often reflect that of the island nation’s culture and society. So a more developed island with access to amenities would probably be more representative of the school’s atmosphere; (3) the clinical outlook for a school is probably the most important question and discussion for prospective students to have about a school. That is, in what states does the school offer clinical rotations and are there enough slots for incoming students. This is usually where having state accreditations makes a big deal (i.e., New York, California, Texas, etc.); (4) finally, the composition of the student body is important. If a school essentially has no entry requirements (i.e., MCAT scores, college degree, etc.), then they are pretty much suggesting that they will accept anyone who applies.
Without properly screening applicants, students may enter an environment that is not really good for them.
In the end, even it was possible to visit each of these schools and collect data, the idea of trying to rank them is nearly impossible because there are many factors to take into account at each school and island. Ultimately, ranking schools this way may not be logical to some prospective applicants, but it would still be nice to have just a little more insight before venturing off to the islands.