Getting a Medical Degree in a Foreign Country

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One in four practicing US doctors has received his/her medical training in a foreign country.  Yet, there is a still a great stigma attached to obtaining a medical degree in a foreign country.  Despite years of evidence to the contrary, doctors who receive their medical degrees abroad are often seen as less competent than those trained in the US.  If you are considering medical training abroad, you’ll need to know about the requirements and barriers to practicing medicine in the US after obtaining your medical degree in a foreign country.

It’s Easy to Get In

One of the prejudices against doctors who receive their medical training abroad is that the medical schools they attended had less stringent admission requirements.  This is mostly true; for example, Caribbean medical schools admit students at a much high rate (over 30%) than US medical school (3-10%).  This admission rate leads many people to draw the conclusion that foreign medical schools are less selective and will admit any eligible student, especially those not good enough to be admitted to a US medical school.  This is a real prejudice that many foreign-trained doctors face. Be prepared for this criticism if you decide to attend a medical school abroad.

There are Less Opportunities For Clinical Rotations

In smaller countries, such as the Caribbean or Israel, it is true that there are fewer opportunities for clinical rotations, as there are fewer Consulting with patients in Tanzaniahospitals in which to work.  However, working in partnership with the US, especially with NYC-based hospitals, medical students studying abroad complete their rotations frequently on US soil under the guidance of US-based physicians.  By being exposed to patient populations both abroad and at home, doctors trained in foreign countries have the opportunity to provide a breadth of care to many different demographics. 

Getting Certified to Practice Medicine in the USA

This is where things get tricky for the foreign-trained doctor.  The US has strict regulations for doctors who received their medical degrees abroad.  First, they must pass all requirements outlined by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates.  This includes taking the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and completing a medical residency.  The medical residency component is often difficult for foreign-trained doctors to obtain.  US medical residency programs privilege US-trained medical students.  However, once you complete a residency and pass the final component of the USMLE, you’ll be certified to practice medicine.  In addition, seeking board certification in your medical specialty area will allow you nearly unrestricted access to practice medicine in the US.  This process takes years to complete, so be patient as you run into obstacles.

Meeting the Needs of Patients

Doctors who obtain their medical degrees in a foreign country typically practice primary care medicine, a field that is chronically understaffed.  As a foreign-trained physician, you’ll meet the growing demands from patients for doctors who provide primary care to underserved, often remote communities. The tide is turning in your favor if you choose to see a medical degree abroad.  Just be aware that prejudices against this path of medical training persist and still have a long way to go before they are resolved. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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