When Tavinder Singh took the MCAT, the California native dreamed of going to medical school. And then his scores came back — too low for him to get in anywhere in the United States. So he packed his bags for the island of Dominica and enrolled at the Ross University School of Medicine.
Ross is one of the dozens of for-profit medical schools scattered throughout the Caribbean that market themselves mostly to folks in Singh’s position. These schools have often come in for criticism, what with their hefty price tags, large class sizes and high dropout rates, writes Stat News’s Usha Lee McFarling. Even their mere location can be a negative for students. “They’ve heard all the jokes about studying anatomy on the beach with Mai Tais in hand,” McFarling notes.
But a massive physician shortage is transforming those views, McFarling writes in a recent article that tackles “Why the United States is no longer turning up its nose at Caribbean medical schools.” Their graduates typically have a tough time landing a residency, a credential that’s required to practice medicine in the United States. So they’re eager to take positions anywhere, including in “poor, rural, and underserved communities,” McFarling says.
Once someone is wearing that white coat, school names don’t come up much. Patients tend to be more interested in how they’re being treated, says McFarling, who highlights the example of Moazzum Bajwa, a Ross graduate and a second-year resident at the Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley, Calif.
Over the course of an hour-long appointment, retired carpenter José Luis Garcia, 69, doesn’t just get the exam he was expecting. Bajwa also draws him a detailed diagram to explain how blood sugar levels work. They discuss — thanks to Bajwa’s fluent Spanish — what’s causing stress in Garcia’s life, including his wife’s recent brain surgery. At the end, Bajwa offers a hug.
“This is a very great doctor,” Garcia tells McFarling. “Normally, I don’t feel important.”