When you thought about being a doctor growing up, you were probably picturing yourself in some really cool fitted green or blue scrubs, donning a crisp, clean white coat, sporting a shiny Littman’s Stethoscope and a pair of comfortable Nike (or Under Armour, Adidas or New Balance) sneakers, right?
Well, guess what, that look won’t actually come to fruition till your done medical school and starting residency. Oh yeah, we should also add that this particular look will probably only last for about a month or so. After that, your white coat will have coffee and pen stains; maybe some dried up blood (you’ll find dried up blood and bodily fluids on just about everything you own so get used to it) and it will be far from crisp; more like wrinkled and tattered and worn out (yeah, after a month). And those brand-new kicks? Well, they’ll definitely be worn out from all the walking, standing, and running you’ll be doing during your internship year. Did we also mention that they’ll have dried up blood (and other human juices on them)? This is what the glory days are like!
But you’ll actually get a taste for all this when you’re still in medical school, during your clinical years. In an earlier blog post, we wrote about what you should expect to learn during your first two years of medical school – the foundation years (or basic sciences). In years three and four, you’ll get to apply all those learnings, as you spend time in different hospitals, clinics, and wards, in all the major disciplines in medicine fulfilling your school’s requirements to graduate!
During the clinical years, medical students, especially the ones from the Caribbean, are expected to be at par with local US/CAN medical students in their clinical abilities. From taking a patient history to conducting a relevant physical examination to ordering the necessary tests and diagnostics and finally, providing treatment and follow-up care – these are all everyday staples embedded into the clinical curriculum.
The curriculum itself is very straightforward, across all Caribbean medical schools. Generally, a third-year medical student will complete a mandatory list of clinical clerkships (or clinical rotations) in the following disciplines for a standard time period:
• Internal Medicine (12 weeks)
• General Surgery (12 weeks)
• Pediatrics (6 weeks)
• Psychiatry (6 weeks)
• Obstetrics & Gynecology (6 weeks)
• Family Medicine (6 weeks)
There isn’t a specific order in which one needs to complete these rotations. Instead, depending on your schools’ placement availabilities and hospital and/or preceptor affiliations, you may find that your rotation schedule differs from your classmates. And that’s not uncommon across Caribbean medical schools.
Unfortunately, because most of these Caribbean Islands don’t have accredited teaching hospitals, private Caribbean schools send their students off to the US primarily to complete their third-year core clerkships. They are able to do this because each school has formed partnerships or affiliations with hospitals throughout the US (and some have agreements in place in Canada too) that allow their students access to teaching hospitals, with doctors and patients, etc…
In your fourth year, you’ll be allowed to complete a handful of elective clerkships, usually 4 weeks in duration (minimum of 2 weeks in length) in all sorts of specialties and disciplines, to your liking. This is the time when you start choosing rotations that line up with your end-goal of where you’d like to do your residency. For example, if a 4th year Caribbean medical student wanted to ultimately compete for a General Surgery Residency, they will probably do electives in plastic surgery, orthopedic surgery, trauma surgery, emergency medicine, neurosurgery and the alike. Ideally, you’ll also want to do these electives at different hospitals, in various states to show variety, while building out your reference network, which you’ll tap when you’re applying for residency.
Depending on which medical school you choose in the Caribbean, the elective requirements vary from 24 weeks (6 electives x 4 weeks each) up to 30 weeks (which also includes a few 2-week electives.
The clinical years are some of the most formidable years of a medical student because you get to actually do ‘hands-on’ work, applying all the theory you learned when you were sitting in a classroom. You also get an opportunity to travel. Remember, as a medical student, you’re not required to complete electives all in one country either! American, Canadian and Caribbean medical students will also complete visiting electives around the world in the UK and throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America. Doing this provides depth and variety to your CV, not to mention life-long memories and cherished memories. So when you get to this point in your studies, don’t limit yourself. If you’re worried about the incremental costs, it’s practical to just assume, “Well I’m already carrying a ton of student debt. What’s another few thousand?”
If you’re getting started on this journey, then jump on to UMCAS – The Universal Medical College Application Service. Use one universal application and apply to various medical schools in the Caribbean that participate on our platform. You can also read up on each school’s offerings, compare their curriculums, fees, any available scholarships or bursaries and the like. Deciding to pursue a career in medicine is a path of lifelong learning. Make sure you make the right decision!
If you liked this article, check out last month’s feature on shadowing a physician.