Q&A: Jerry Wargo, American University of Antigua

Student’s should consider studying medicine in the Caribbean, and here’s why!

Gerald (Jerry) Wargo

Year after year, Canadian students persist with applications to universities across the country in an attempt to gain entry to a Faculty of Medicine only to be denied due to the high application rate and limited availability. However, there is another route to pursuing a medical degree that students may consider – and studying in paradise may just be an added perk to the pursuit. Recently we sat down with Gerald (Jerry) Wargo from American University of Antigua to shed some insight into this option. 

  1. Why should a Canadian high school student consider studying medicine abroad?

Like other countries, there simply aren’t enough open seats for every aspiring Canadian student who wants to attend medical school. Graduates of accredited international universities can practice medicine back in Canada. Make sure to look for a MD curriculum that is similar to Canadian medical schools and has clinical rotation sites back home. Plus, students studying internationally get more global experience than their peers studying on the mainland—something that’s grown more important as the world battles diseases like COVID-19.

2. What is the rate of acceptance to international medical schools vs Canadian schools?

The acceptance rate of international medical schools is around 40% vs the 10%-20% of Canadian schools.

3. What accreditations should students look for when applying to medical schools outside of Canada?

This is one of the most important questions that I often hear. Accreditation is one of the most important things an aspiring student needs to look for when researching medical schools, because it means an outside agency has favorably reviewed a school’s MD program and given it a stamp of approval. Because there is no U.S.-based accrediting agency for Caribbean medical schools, most are instead accredited by the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and other Health Professions (CAAM-HP), which is seen as the gold-standard accreditation for Caribbean medical schools. If the Caribbean medical school you’re considering holds CAAM-HP accreditations, you should consider that a marker of high educational quality.

Also of note: CAAM-HP is recognized by the World Federation for Medical Education/Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research (WFME/FAIMER). This is important because, after 2023, the Educational Commission on Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) will issue certification only for degrees from a school that is accredited by a WFME-recognized agency.

4. When choosing a pre-med program what should a student be on the lookout for?

When choosing a pre-med program, students should look for one that incorporates the right prerequisite coursework that will prepare them for medical school. Try to find a program that is affiliated directly with a medical school, either through an official articulation agreement or a memorandum of understanding. Finally, make sure they have a high percentage of graduates that go on to medical school.

5. Does the program’s length vary dependent on where the study takes place internationally?

Yes, it can vary by location. For example, in the U.S. and in the Caribbean,  it is typically four years but in Europe it could be five to six years in length. 

6. Do students applying to international medical schools have access to financial assistance such as Canadian student loans?

If the international medical school is approved by the Canadian Ministry of Education then eligible students may qualify for Canadian financial aid, allowing eligible students to receive Canadian federal loans, provincial loans, and participate in grant programs. Other financial assistance could include grants and scholarships specifically designed for Canadian students. 

6. How will attending an international medical school affect a student’s ability to obtain residency in Canada? 

International medical school students have the same opportunity as Canadian medical school students to obtain residency in Canada as long as the medical school has the right accreditations and has clinical sites available in Canada. International medical school students have secured competitive residencies in Canada such as Surgery, Radiology, and Neurology.

7. Upon completion of the program, what is the process to return to practice in Canada?

Canadian students that graduate from an accredited medical school can apply for both the CaRMS Match and US Match. Students in a U.S. residency program can return to Canada to practice after completing training.

8. Is there any advice you can offer to students considering the study of medicine outside of Canada?

I am often asked this question, and there are several decision points that I always ask students to consider when choosing a medical school outside of Canada.  

Number one: Review the accreditations, recognitions and approvals that each medical school has.  There are many international medical school options for students, however, only a few have the appropriate accreditation and approvals that are necessary for students to attain future residencies.  

Secondly, review the school’s statistics for important return on investment areas that often illustrate a school’s success. These areas include performance on licensure exams, residency rates, clinical affiliates, and alumni success.

Finally, choose the medical school where you feel most comfortable.  Consider things like the size of the school, the number of students, faculty credentials, campus facilities, and the university’s overall record of success.  

Make a list and see which school meets all your needs. If you do your homework you will quickly realize what school is the best fit for you!

Gerald J. WargoJr., MBA, MHRM, A higher education professional with over 23 years of experience in leadership, admissions, operations and marketing. Gerald has extensive experience educating aspiring physicians of the opportunity of attending medical school in the Caribbean.