Turned Down for Medical School? Some Good Ones Await Offshore

Originally posted: January 14, 2002

RICHMOND, Ind., January 14 — Approximately 51,000 college seniors apply for admission to the 154 medical schools in the United States annually. But because these schools have only 17,000 available vacancies, most of those aspiring doctors will be getting disappointing news in the mail.

Nearly all those denied admission labored through four years of pre-medical studies, with majors ranging from biology to French to physics. In many cases their applications were accompanied with superior academic transcripts and high scores on the MCAT (Medical School Aptitude Test). Many submitted enthusiastic endorsements from their college professors — letters attesting to wholesome, well-rounded lives, demonstrated leadership abilities, intellectual prowess and admirable character.

But in a highly competitive race, medical schools must deny thousands of qualified applicants simply because there isn’t more room in the class.

Does this mean the passed-over must abandon their dreams of becoming doctors? Not at all, says Dr. William Harvey, professor of biology and chief health professions advisor at Earlham College. Beyond the United States’ shores, he says “are a number of medical schools that accept Americans and some give excellent training – in English — to become doctors back in the U.S.” Some 6,000 Americans matriculate in foreign medical schools each year, he says, mostly because U.S. schools rejected them.

Dr. Harvey is a board member of the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, an organization of specialized advisors that guide undergraduates in preparation for careers in the health sciences. One of his specialties with the NAAHP board is evaluating foreign medical schools.

In recent years he has visited medical institutions in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Ireland. On January 12 he joined a team of fellow advisors on a visit to the Karol Marcinkowski University of Medical Science in Poznan, Poland. This medical school is one of Poland’s oldest and largest programs. Accompanying him will be undergraduate health profession advisors from such universities as Harvard, Yale, Rice, Amherst, and the University of California at San Diego.

“The school has recently opened a medical teaching program in English,” Dr. Harvey says. “We will spend a week looking them over — interviewing faculty members and students, examining the curriculum, assessing their facilities, all the things that reveal how good or not so good they are in training doctors.”

As in the case of all foreign schools evaluated, the team’s report will be shared with advisor members of the NAAHP, which will consider the Polish school as an option for American students. Health career advisors in colleges across the country will use the report in determining whether to steer pre-medical students to consider applying to Karol Marcinkowski.

“One of the things that we look for is a curriculum that has been established along guidelines established by the American Association of Medical Colleges,” says Dr. Harvey. “Foreign medical colleges must teach required courses in cytology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, histology and gross anatomy, among others — and teach them well.”

Students in foreign medical schools devote two years to those biological didactics then return to the United States to take part one of the United States Medical Licensing Board Examination. After passing step one of this exam, students typically enter hospitals in the United States or the United Kingdom, where they undergo two years of clinical training, after which they must pass step two of the Board Exam before receiving their medical degrees.

The 154 U.S. medical schools Harvey refers to include both allopathic (MD granting) and osteopathic medicine schools. Canadian medical schools enjoy the same accreditation and professional affiliation as U.S. schools and are not considered “foreign.” However, Canadian schools large serve Canadian citizens.

Harvey acknowledges a certain skepticism in the American medical establishment toward offshore schooling. “Blanket suspicion was once more justified than it is today,” Dr. Harvey says. “The unsatisfactory medical schools are pretty much identified and many have been eliminated, especially in the Caribbean,” says Dr. Harvey. “But many foreign schools have improved over the years to the point that they train doctors as well as any U.S. school. Some, medical schools in Mexico and in Europe are outstanding”.

Dr. Harvey, who is also president of the 14-state Central Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, says his organization’s purpose “is to be helpful to students in the United States who want to become doctors and are qualified for medical training. So many applicants are very qualified, yet only a third of them win acceptance into an U.S. medical school.”

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