How Caribbean medical schools deceive disadvantaged students

Illustration by Aimi Dickel

Walking through the halls of Regents, dozens of shiny posters plastered across bulletin boards advertise medical schools situated on islands with palm trees, sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. One of them screams “Migrate to a better place!” while another questions “Your dream is waiting. Why are you?” While enticing for the throngs of pre-med students that walk these halls, these St. Olaf-sanctioned posters advertise medical programs that target undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds and, through their focus on earning money off misinformed students, set many up for failure.

The island programs in question are the for-profit Caribbean medical schools, largely founded by European colonizers of the Caribbean islands. This is not a concern about reputation or institutional prestige. Instead, this is a matter of introducing more students from disadvantaged and underprivileged backgrounds into medical schools that will truly prepare, promote and promise a diverse cohort of American physicians that are equipped to serve all communities.

What are the attractions of Caribbean medical schools? Applying to medical school is an undeniably astronomical financial burden. The cost of taking the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) itself hovers around $320, and this cost excludes the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars spent on study preparation materials. The arguably best free resource, an online course and practice problems offered through Khan Academy, was discontinued this past year. That being said, most Caribbean schools do not require the MCAT for admissions — a major attraction for students with fewer financial resources. Further, the acceptance rate is significantly higher than U.S.-based schools, lowering the financial risk of applying.

In order to obtain a job as a physician, one has to complete residency training following medical school. A medical degree without residency is worthless. According to the American Medical Association, in 2019, 93.9 percent of U.S. allopathic medical students matched with a U.S. residency program. For students graduating from medical school outside of the U.S., predominantly from Caribbean institutions, the rate falls to 59 percent. For the over 40 percent of these applicants that are not accepted, it is common to fall into crushing debt and never become a physician or practice in the field for which they spent years preparing. In a recent article published in The New York Times, residency admission committees in the U.S. openly admit to filtering out graduates from Caribbean medical schools.

There is a crippling shortage of doctors of color in the United States. In the midst of racial reckoning movements, educating less privileged pre-med students on the risks of attending Caribbean medical schools is a tangible step St. Olaf can take in order to promote equal opportunity and equity in terms of guidance, diversifying the healthcare workforce.

It is the duty of St. Olaf to not only help these students be admitted, but to help them succeed.

Lucia Wagner ’21 is from

Iowa City, IA.

Her majors are chemistry and mathematics.