Caribbean Medical Schools: An Answer to the Primary Care Physician Crisis?
Caribbean Medical Schools: An Answer to the Primary Care Physician Crisis?

This article is the third part in the UMHS series on Primary Care and the positive role of the Caribbean Medical School in addressing what many see as a very desperate future, corroborated by headlines that project a 90,000 doctor shortfall in as little as 10 years for many parts of the United States.

Recently from Reuters Health:

Less than a quarter of new doctors finishing an internal medicine training program planned to become a primary care physician instead of a specialist, in a new study.

This new study is being received well, with many calling it long overdue.  It gives a fairly insightful look at a very sticky problem.  And though it offers some solutions, still one is overlooked.  That one is the critical role that Caribbean medical schools can play in helping to forestall, if not avert the crisis altogether.

Caribbean medical schools serve a unique purpose in creating space for qualified medical school prospects.  Many of these prospective students will, no doubt, be called to fill this widening gap.  This comes at a time when a severe shortage of seats in U.S. and Canadian medical schools spells rejection for far too many qualified medical school candidates.

I was recently shocked when I spoke to friends in California, friends who are the parents of a Caribbean medical school graduate.  In that conversation I was not only confronted with the problem of seat shortages but also with the reality of who gets first crack at the few seats available.

My friends’ son, a University of San Diego Biology major who graduated with honors, held leadership posts as an undergraduate, and had a fascinating journey through college, was confident of gaining entrance into his school of choice on the mainland U.S.  This did not happen.

How is it possible that this bright, superbly qualified candidate did not get accepted to a U.S. school, especially in a time when so many doctors are sorely needed?  The son of social activists, he even stated clearly in his essays, that his goal was to work in an inner-city as a Primary Care doc.

He dream was nearly felled by what might be called a bloated system with too few seats.  Also, as he found out later, many of those seats were held aside for the taking by the heirs of legacy – those whose families have a history of attendance at any given school.  My friends’ son decided to go to a Caribbean medical school, saving his dream of becoming a physician, and going on to be a remarkable Internist.

In reading this study, though not included, the shortage of seats in U.S. and Canadian schools and legacy admissions must certainly be considered as contributing factors in the projected shortage, must they not?  I believe it is also safe to say that were it not for the brilliance of off-shore medical schools that serve the U.S. and Canadian populace, the bright star that is my friends’ son, might have faded.  Me might have never worn the white coat that he now wears while serving his very lucky patients. To speak to him now, he says that were he to do it all over again, a Caribbean medical school would not be an alternative.  It would be his primary choice.

The University of Medicine and Health Sciences, is not just another Caribbean medical school.  It is fast becoming a premier medical school, a school of choice with the numbers and stats to back up the claim.  With smaller, more intimate learning environment, UMHS still seats classes large enough to make a difference and provide the diverse exciting culture that rivals the best U.S. schools.  However, never to become a “diploma mill,” as many other Caribbean medical schools might be considered, above all else, UMHS holds firm to the highest academic standards. The UMHS vision is to educate quality physicians, in a superior environment.  It is many of these future physicians who will join  the ranks of those answering this Primary Care crisis.

Having been accredited by it’s host country, UMHS has also been approved to accept Veteran’s Administration beneficiaries.   UMHS also recently announced the new Dr. Robert Ross Scholarship fund, in memory of its founder, Dr. Robert Ross.  Dr. Ross, himself, was a war veteran and who helped pioneer the concept of the Caribbean medical school.  These milestones continue to position UMHS as a school of choice and as a real voice in the conversation of how to address the impending Primary Care shortfall.

In all of this, the study lists many reasons for the shortfall.  It gives reasons why so many physicians opt for specialties over general medicine.  It gives percentages and figures that could strike fear in our hearts.  And yet Caribbean medical schools, like UMHS, remain steadfast in their ability to help address this crisis.  This is one point that this study, and future studies like it should consider.

And though the crisis looms, UMHS will continue to prepare its students well to face even the worst crises – as any great medical school should.  Therefore as this semester and this series draw to a close, we stand hopeful for the next term and for our collective future. We stand hopeful today, making preparation to welcome our new class as they board planes towards a bright tomorrow, beginning next semester on the shores of St. Kitts.

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