Fifteen Facts about Offshore Medical Schools

Just because an applicant to medical school has poor test scores doesn’t mean they can’t find a school that will license them for practice. One example is Ross University School of Medicine, located on the Caribbean island of Dominica; United States students drain $150 million a year in federal student loans to study at this offshore school. (1) They aren’t a minority, either: with 3,500 students, that’s double the largest medical school you can find nationally.

Here are fifteen facts you should know about offshore medical schools and their impact on the health care industry.

The Pros

1: They are meeting the demand for new doctors as our population ages. The baby boomers are getting older, and this means an enormous leap in how many doctors we need in our hospitals. It’s one of the key factors in the health care industry’s rapid expansion. Our medical schools simply aren’t equipped to meet the demand of the industry, leaving offshore medical schools like Ross to educate the students that couldn’t qualify for education in the States. (7)

2: Your hospital likely has an offshore graduate practicing medicine. Think offshore graduates are few and far between? There are 80 Ross graduates in the Tampa Bay, Florida area alone. (2) Florida is one of the many states that have set up strict regulations for medical practice as well, so this isn’t like having the boogieman for your doctor; these practitioners are the real deal and are lowering your hospital wait.

3: Offshore medical school training has gone on for awhile. These offshore medical schools have certified doctors for decades. To get an idea, a Congressional agency sounded a warning about the monitoring of offshore medical school graduates back in 1980 (3).

4: Offshore medical school students must pass the same medical residency exam. Ultimately, regardless of the school a doctor attends, they’ve all passed the same medical residency exam. This filters out any dilemma in receiving a doctor with faulty practice. (5)

5: Offshore medical schools uphold the “work hard for success” motto. The American dream is that anyone can achieve success through hard work, right? At Kevin, M.D.’s weblog, medical students from offshore schools argue that offshore medical programs have given a second chance for success; the high dropout rate comes from those that can’t make it, but students that work hard can still succeed despite not having the grades to enter an American medical school. This opportunity empowers students to pursue their dreams of medical practice with enough dedication (and bring much-needed doctors back to the States.) (9)

The Cons

6: Students are required to repeat the material if they’re not “getting it.” One Ross student with a 4.0 GPA average disclosed how her roommate repeated three semesters of classes that he’d failed. This ensures failing students aren’t getting certified, but it also raises the debate on whether failing students should even have the opportunity to practice medicine.

7: Offshore students are less likely to finish school. In a medical school within the U.S., graduation rates are almost 100 percent; at Ross University School of Medicine though, only one-third of students finish in four years.

8: The student debt of an offshore graduate is much higher. A graduate from a national medical school has an average of $158,000 in student loans. Compare this to offshore graduates, with a staggering $235,000 that could prevent them from getting residency. This means they can’t practice, and taxpayers are left handling the costs of their schooling.

9: While a States school requires an average of 31 on the MCAT, an offshore school may take students with as low as 17. Granted, this test is only meant to qualify students for medical school; once they’re there, they’re learning valid curriculum that could lead to an outstanding practice. There’s no question though about how these offshore students lack the academic head start that makes State medical school graduates succeed.

10: Clinical training sites are few and far between. Because offshore schools like Ross University School of Medicine are addressing the high demand for doctors in our country, students are taken in at overwhelming (and necessary) rates and then find there are not enough locations for their clinical training. Many students are forced out of school because of the shortage. This means that while offshore schools are solving the dilemma for the high demand of health care experts, we don’t have enough in-State hospitals to offer the opportunity for experience to certify these practitioners; in short, they’re caught in a vicious loophole.

11: Offshore medical schools received the majority of their revenue from student loans. In 2009, Ross University School of Medicine received 81% of their revenue from student loans. That’s over $100 million a year that could very well be paid back in taxpayer’s money!

12: Some offshore medical schools are accredited without a government official stepping foot on the campus. Regulations of offshore medical schools is variable depending on the country and could lead to doctors certified to practice in almost 40 States without reliable school accreditation. (4)

13: Caribbean offshore medical schools are considered more of a gamble. There are offshore medical schools located all across the world; students and graduates of Caribbean schools are typically the ones in question. The educational quality and chance of completing is considered “a gamble.” (6)

14: More than 2/3 of the students in offshore medical schools applied, at one time, to a State school. The question on whether offshore medical schools are the more affordable, preferred choice is diluted by this statistic; experts on offshore medical schools believe the facilities only serve one purpose: to act as a net for aspiring doctors that can’t practice otherwise. This brings up the moral dilemma on whether we want practitioners that American institutions think aren’t qualified or not, simply based on need. (8)

15: Improvement is a must. After all of this dismal or at least controversial information, it would seem like offshore medical schools are the worst way to go. Fortunately, in a report to Congress in August 2009, one of the accreditation agencies of offshore medical colleges recommended raising school standards and improving reporting of the school’s progress, from test scores to graduation rates to total academic cost.

The former Ross registrar, Rendon, agreed with the need to stiffen the school’s entrance requirements. (2) Jordan J. Cohen, M.D., president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, claimed that America needs to regulate the quality of Caribbean medical schools more and the ECFMG needs to continue maintaining a high standard for qualifying doctors for residency. (8)

You be the judge on whether you agree or not with offshore medical school graduates populating our hospitals! What are your thoughts?