A note to med school hopefuls

This is a little off-topic from my typical blog posts, so bear with me.

Earlier this week, there was an article in the Toronto Star about a 27-year old Toronto woman who was stabbed 16 times in her home in St. Kitts and Nevis, a small two-island nation in the Carribean. When she was taken to the hospital, she was bandaged up, and then placed in a crowded room with eight other patients and no air conditioning. The doctors were unable to do a CT scan or an MRI, as they did not have one in the hospital, but assured her that her wounds were superficial. This proved not to be the case when she returned to Canada and had a stroke. She had been almost killed, having suffered an injury to her carotid artery.

The irony of this story? She was a month into her education at a St. Kitts and Nevis medical school.

The Medical University of the Americas is a for-profit medical school aimed at training North American doctors who couldn’t get into schools back home. This is not an uncommon phenomenon – in fact, I know quite a few people from my high school who have opted to go to schools like this one. And it is easy to see why.

As a student in the life sciences I am surrounded by wannabe doctors—and the fact of the matter is it’s a tough path to follow. The competition is stiff, the MCAT is brutal, and a lot of worthy people do not get in. After receiving a rejection letter, many are eager to try again in another country where the requirements aren’t quite as rigid. However, this story shows that this is not a decision to be taken lightly.

If you are a medical hopeful at UBC, or any other Canadian university, I urge you to really think through your decision to get educated in another country. If you really want to be a doctor, you want to go somewhere you can get a solid education, access to excellent healthcare resources, and receive all the training necessary to be a well-qualified physician. You do not want to be trained at a money-grabbing school whose goal is not to make good doctors, but to make good money – much less in a country that has sparse medical resources.

Also, if you are jetting off to another country for medical school, do not expect yourself to be able to come back for residency. I know quite a few people who have gone abroad to study medicine since they were unable to get accepted to Canadian medical schools – this is actually an increasing trend among Canadian students. There are currently thousands of Canadians studying medicine abroad, and there is even a medical school in Scotland that is exclusively aimed at training Canadian students (for a $250,000 price tag). According to the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS), 90% of Canadians studying abroad hope to return to Canada. This is just not possible considering only 10% of residency spots are available to internationally trained doctors. So if you are going to get an international medicine degree, be prepared to practice there as well.

However, if you have a true dream to be a doctor, I am not saying that you should not pursue it. By all means, follow your dreams, but be sure to do your research and think critically about the future while you are doing so. As the famous psychologist Alfred Adler said, “Follow your heart, but take your brain with you”.

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