Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How Caribbean Medical Schools Are Increasing Diversity In Healthcare

How Caribbean Medical Schools Are Increasing Diversity In Healthcaregetty
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Each year, more than 55,000 people submit applications to allopathic medical schools. However, only about 22,700 seats are available, meaning nearly 60% of applicants don’t earn a spot.

What happens to those thousands of applicants who aren’t successful? Some might have also applied and potentially been accepted to osteopathic medical schools or pursued another career in medicine such as a physician’s assistant, nurse or dentist. Others will spend their gap year building up their resume or attending a post-baccalaureate program to boost their GPA so they can be a stronger candidate when reapplying the following cycle.

Students who don’t want to wait or can’t afford to reapply the following cycle, but remain committed to becoming an MD, might wonder what their options are.

That’s when Caribbean Medical Schools, and other international medical schools, can come in.

What Caribbean Medical Schools Are Looking For

Caribbean medical schools tend to accept students with lower GPAs or MCAT scores. For Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM), the average MCAT score was 495. To put that into perspective, the average successful matriculant into allopathic medical schools in the U.S. had an average MCAT score of nearly 512.

Why would the Caribbean medical schools like RUSM want to accept students who have significantly lower MCAT scores or GPAs? One reason is when RUSM evaluates candidates, they aren’t necessarily pitting one candidate against another. Instead, Dr. Heidi Chumley, the dean of Ross University School of Medicine, emphasizes that they are looking first at whether or not they think a candidate can succeed and what they would need to be able to do so.

“The most common challenges we see are related to difficulties academically,” Dr. Chumley said in an interview with Moon Prep. “Other common challenges are related to people who have gone on and had another career, and they’ve been out of the classroom for a long time.” If RUSM thinks they have the tools to help the student succeed, they will accept them.

Dr. G. Richard Olds, the president of St. George’s University (SGU) on the Caribbean island of Grenada, told Moon Prep, “Of course undergraduate GPAs and MCAT scores matter, but we don’t let low numbers define an application. Rather, we understand that applicants have a broad diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and numbers are just one small part of our holistic selection process.”

Ultimately, SGU believes that the pool of qualified candidates is so large that even rejected candidates have strong potential. Dr. Olds reiterates that they want the applicants to use their diverse experiences to become terrific physicians.

Another reason why Caribbean medical schools have more flexibility is they have larger class sizes. RSUM has a class of about 900 students, compared to Albany Medical College, a U.S.-based medical school with a first-year class of 143 students. Unlike U.S. medical schools, which have just one start date in the fall, Caribbean medical schools will often have three starting dates. RUSM matriculates students to start in January, May and September each year. Because of the multiple start dates, Caribbean medical schools can accept more students.

“Our January term provides our students with a unique opportunity to get a head start on their medical education,” Olds explained to Moon Prep. “That means they’ll have more time to adjust to the rigors of medical school and prepare for a residency down the line.”

How Caribbean Medical Schools Reduce Learning Gaps

Many students accepted to medical school in the Caribbean or other international medical schools might have lower GPAs or MCAT scores than the average matriculant in a U.S. medical school. They might have struggled with Organic Chemistry or the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS) section of the MCAT. When these students get to medical school, those potential gaps in knowledge won’t necessarily disappear.

So how can medical schools reduce those learning gaps?

Dr. Chulmey speaks about how she has seen the learning gaps increase at RUSM, especially after the pandemic for students from a disadvantaged or lower socioeconomic background. They tended to struggle more during the pandemic than students with more resources. At RUSM, the administration and faculty tried to “accelerate [their] understanding of what [they] call the social determinants of learning. That’s all that affects a person’s learning and how you can support them.” By doing so, they can help to eliminate the disparities.

When students get to campus, they will have a learning community to help them stay on track and plan ahead. At RUSM, they are paired with peer tutors, peer mentors, as well as a faculty advisor. Students are also overseen by a team of learning strategists, who help students reevaluate how they think about studying. Lastly, they make sure that students get the support they need before it is too late. “If students underperform on the first test, they get support automatically,” Dr. Chulmey explains.

How Caribbean Medical Schools Help Increase Diversity In Medicine

In U.S.-based medical schools, some strides have been made to increase diversity in medicine. According to the American Medical Association, in 2021, 11.3% of matriculants were Black or African American, an increase of 0.8% from the previous year. Most notably, first-year students who were Black men increased by 20.8%. Hispanic matriculants increased slightly, from 12.0% in 2020 to 12.7% in 2021.

While there are some positive trends, there is still more work to be done, and some Caribbean medical schools are working to close that gap.

One Carribean medical school, American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, has a diverse class, with 29.67% of their students identifying as Black or African American, and 12.3% of their students identifying as Hispanic.

As for RSUM, they have formed partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) such as Dillard University, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tuskegee University and Oakwood University, as well as Cal State Dominguez Hills, which is ranked as a top degree producer for minority students.

Dr. Chumley stressed the importance of RUSM getting to HBCUs and HSIs (Hispanic-serving Institution) early in the student’s undergraduate career. That way, they can build a “sense of community and can deliver a clear message that you belong in medicine.” At RUSM, the administration works on behalf of the students to help them build their confidence and sense of belonging. Thanks to a wellness team on campus, they keep students motivated when their studies become more challenging.

While there is still work to be done, Caribbean medical schools could be helping to increase diversity in medicine while giving students a second chance at achieving their dream of becoming a physician.

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