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Packing 101: What to Bring to Caribbean Medical Schools

Although most Caribbean medical schools and the islands on which they are located are thoroughly modern, everyday essentials and the comforts of home can be expensive since nearly everything must be imported from the U.S. and Canada. The UMHS Pulse has compiled tips on what Caribbean-bound medical students will need (besides textbooks, immunizations and a student visa), and things you should do to streamline preparations for going away to school.

Photo: Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo: Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Packing: Since airlines are strict about how many suitcases one may bring and may charge extra for the weight of each piece of checked baggage, it’s crucial to check with your carrier about their rules and possible fees ahead of time. Although luggage seldom actually gets lost, it may not arrive with you on your flight, so make sure the airline can locate you once your bag finally makes it to the correct destination. Put address tags on each piece of luggage. Use your campus address or the address to your island apartment.

It is recommended to bring a carry-on bag with enough clothing and toiletries to last three days. Use common sense and never put prescription medication in checked luggage; always put such essentials in your carry-on. Always bring prescription medication in the bottle(s) provided by the pharmacy, with labels intact and your name, doctor and dosage legible (to avoid problems in customs). Check with your school about having prescriptions refilled on the island before leaving the U.S. or Canada.

Remember not to put sharp items (such as nail clippers, sewing needles) or aerosol sprays into your carry-on because they may be confiscated either by airport security or customs.

Consider mailing (or using Caribbean shipping services) non-essential items to the island. This will save you time and money.

Over-the-Counter Meds & Miscellaneous Items: Bring your favorite over-the-counter medications because some are either unavailable or overly expensive, depending on the item. Remember that federal regulations prohibit the size and quantity of liquids/gels to 3.4 ounces. These might include:

• Digestive meds (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, etc.)
• Antiseptics for infections (Neosporin, Bactine)
• Sunscreen and sunburn creams and gels
• Aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen
• Toothpaste
• Insect repellant/hydrocortisone cream
• Band-aids, ace bandages
• Women’s personal products
• Non-prescription contraceptives
• Razors and shaving cream
• Shampoo and hair conditioner
• Cold and sinus meds
• Contact lenses and supplies
• Eyeglass cleaners/wipes
• Vitamins

Check the following websites for airline regulations in the U.S. and Canada for what you can and cannot put in your carry-on: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/3-1-1-carry-ons and http://www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca/Home.aspx?id=1&lang=en

Food: It’s always a good idea to bring non-perishable food items (protein bars, crackers, nuts, etc.) for your first evening upon arrival, just in case stores and restaurants are closed. You may want to bring your favorite candy or snack food because it may either be unavailable where you’re going or expensive due to taxes and import duties. Because every country has different customs regulations regarding importing food, check the customs and immigration website of the country in which you’ll be studying in advance to see if there is anything you cannot bring.

Following is a sample of items suggested by ValueMD for Caribbean medical school students (http://www.valuemd.com/medschoolpack.php)

School supplies:

• Sturdy backpack.
• Notebooks, pens, paper, highlighters, 2-inch binders, colored pens and pencils (#2 for exams), index cards.
• Ear plugs for studying and sleeping.
• Day Planner (if your laptop or smartphone doesn’t have one; consider bringing one any way in case your laptop crashes or you lose your phone)
• Inexpensive personal calculators with square root function.

Clothing:

• Adequate wardrobe for several months.
• For those coming from cold climates, remember to pack light clothing (summer weight shirts, shorts, jeans, bathing suits.)
• Sandals, flip-flops, sneakers
• Light raincoat/poncho and umbrella
• Sweater/sweatshirt (air-conditioned lecture halls can be cold.)
• A jacket/tie or a sundress/light dress for the White Coat Ceremony.
• Sundress/trousers to wear in clinical skills classes during visits to the outlying District Health Office.
• Do not bring overly formal clothing; you will live in casual summer clothing. Some special events may require formal dress; and men may be required to wear, if not a suit coat, at least a long-sleeved dress shirt and tie.


Miscellaneous Items:

• Hangers and a laundry bag (many students use a duffel bag as both luggage and a laundry bag)
• Flashlight: Small “mini-mag” type flashlights are popular. Small battery-run book lights (for Kindle and Nook) are also smart items to bring for the occasional power outages.
• Batteries – consider bringing rechargeable batteries and a charger for both your flashlight and/other electronic equipment. They can save you money. (Check with your school, airline’s website and the country’s immigration website because some air carriers and countries abroad do not allow batteries either in luggage or in customs)
• Power strip, surge protector
• Extra cell phone, iPod and Kindle/Nook and USB chargers
• 1-2 pairs sunglasses
• Large drinking cup and mug, bowl, silverware
• Blanket, sheets and pillow
• Travel clock (wind-up or battery operated): The current delivered-through outlets in the Caribbean island you are traveling to might be different than that in the US; therefore plug-in clock radios made for the U.S. lose 10 minutes per hour on most Caribbean islands. (Ask your school about the voltage and electrical frequency on the island before bringing plug-in electronics)
• Sewing kit (scissors, needle, thread, button, pins, etc; these must be packed in checked luggage)
• Water filter (such as Brita jug) and replacement filters (3 or 4)

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