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26February2014

Medical Studies Abroad

by Originally published in Hindustan Times Education section

 

I get a lot of questions about medical studies abroad. Whether it is for residencies or questions about undergraduate medicine courses, the fact is that these are difficult to answer because the system of medical education in India is, in many ways, very different from the rest of the world. 

In the US, for example, a medical doctor must first complete four years of undergraduate studies in a subject relatedto medicine (e.g. biology, or in some colleges pre-medical studies), but students cannot earn medical degrees at the undergraduate level. After graduation, a student then must take the MCAT exam and apply for medical school, usually 4 year programs, which include courses in basic medical sciences (e.g. anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, etc.) and also include clinical rotation through hospitals with senior physicians. After these four years the student recieves an MD degree and is then required to complete a residency before practicing medicine. Those who want to pursue specialtiy areas of medicine must do subsequent years.  While some medical requirements may be similar to India, in the US, after completing 12th students are looking at a minimum of nine years (some estimates up to 11 years if you count studying for MCAT, US Medical Licensing exams (USMLE) and state licensing exams) before becoming a full-fledged doctor.

 
Besides the lengthy and multiple courses of study, the bottom line is that medical schools in the US are extremely competitive, and there are barely any spots for international medical students (according to the ‘US Med Schools for International Students’ blog, less than half of the medical schools in the US even accept applications from foreign students). And international students must show ability to pay for four years, and in some cases put the total amount of money into escrow until medical studies are completed. Ultimately if your don’t hold a four-year bachelor’s degree from the US (i.e. you studied in India), getting admitted is nearly impossible. A lot of Indian MBBS graduates go to the US for their residency, and there are ways to make this work, but you have to be willing to study for the USMLE exams and live without an income and without guarantees for some time – you also have to find a way to get yourself to the US legally so that you can sit for the exams.
 
If your passion is health care, why not look at some other, non-MD options. For example careers as Physio Therapists, Physicians assistants, Nurses, Public Health Administrators, Hospital Administrators deal with important aspects of patient care and can sometimes even be more satisifying than clinical work, depending on your personality and strengths. Of course the best programs in these fields are competitive, but there are an abundance of opportunities at smaller, lesser known colleges, from which well-trained professionals will be sought after. Furthermore, if you look into these programs in countries with friendly work visa policies (e.g. Canada), you can get valuable experience after completing your education.
 

As I said in the beginning, I am really no expert on medical education. If you are interested in pursuing studies in health services outside India. Medicine tends to be an industry that is highly regulated by most governments, so understandably the education of its practitioners is as variable as such state-run health care systems. Be careful of agents who promise to lead you down this path. Nothing is every guaranteed, yet everything is expensive, so try to find free government resources of the host countries to help navigate the process.
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