By Adedayo Akande, Chairman & President — University of Health Sciences Antigua
There’s a growing national concern about the impending physician shortage in the US. In 2021, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported that the US could see a potential shortage of between 37,800 and 124,00 total physicians by 2034.
Several factors, including demographic shifts, heightened demand for healthcare services, and changes in physician practice patterns, contribute to the underlying causes of the physician shortage. The reality is that the steep expenses tied to medical education and the weight of student debt diminish the appeal of entering primary care specialties and practicing in underserved areas.
To help alleviate this shortage, many international schools provide high-quality medical education and work with US hospitals and doctors. This relationship is beneficial to both the US and the medical students who can’t afford US-medical school costs.
Pathways to employment
Many international medical schools, including those in the Caribbean, actively seek and educate students keen to pursue a medical career in the United States. For example, the University of Health Science Antigua (UHSA) has designed its curriculum to closely resemble that of US medical schools and to satisfy the criteria necessary for US medical licensing exams — something other countries don’t do.
By setting up opportunities to connect with US-based hospitals and healthcare professionals, Caribbean medical school graduates gain first-hand experience in the US healthcare system. Not only that, but the targeted training to prepare students for successfully passing US medical licensing exams — such as the US Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Examination (MCCQE) — increases their chances of securing residency positions and practicing medicine in the US.
Students graduating from a Caribbean medical school have a unique advantage in filling the positions that may be overlooked by US-based medical students. This presents a significant opportunity for them to make a meaningful impact in the field of primary care. By choosing to pursue careers as primary care physicians, Caribbean graduates can address the growing need for healthcare providers who can offer comprehensive and accessible medical services to patients.
Furthermore, these graduates can help bridge the gap in underserved areas suffering from a severe shortage of healthcare professionals. By accepting positions in these underserved communities, they can bring essential medical services to individuals who otherwise struggle to access quality care.
Additionally, Caribbean medical school graduates can establish their own medical practices, leveraging the advancements in technology to offer telehealth services. This innovative approach allows them to reach patients in remote and rural areas, ensuring that even those living in geographically isolated regions have access to necessary medical expertise.
Another option for medical students outside of practicing medicine as a physician is teaching and research. Some graduates may join medical schools or universities as faculty members, teaching medical students and conducting research in various medical disciplines. This pathway can lead to opportunities for advancement, including becoming a professor, department head, or leading researcher.
Obstacles Caribbean medical school graduates face
One of the main challenges Caribbean medical school graduates face — all medical students, in fact — is the competitive nature of medical schools and residency programs. One of the reasons for physician shortages is the lack of spots available, as the average acceptance rate for individual allopathic medical schools is 5.5 percent.
However, Caribbean students experience the same challenges as most other international students, including licensing and credentialing, accreditation and recognition, and perceptions and stigma, amongst others.
Many international medical schools expect these challenges and address them by incorporating key factors in their curriculum. By creating a US-based curriculum and partnering with US medical schools and healthcare systems, international schools can better serve their students. For example, with these connections, UHSA prepares students to pass US medical exams. Congruently, UHSA is listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools, enabling students to take — and pass — the USMLE and the MCCQE.
While perceptions and stigma of Caribbean medical school graduates (and most international medical school students) persist today, they have alleviated substantially in the last decade. The reality is that students that graduate from an accredited medical school help with diversity in the US healthcare system and therefore better serve the community at large. This recognition plays a role in hiring more internationally-trained medical graduates with a focus on US medical practices.
The impending physician shortage in the US provides a unique opportunity for Caribbean medical school graduates. By providing high-quality education aligned with US standards, forging partnerships with US healthcare institutions, and preparing students for licensing exams, many international schools offer promising pathways to employment for medical school graduates.
Filling critical gaps in primary care and underserved helps students overcome the many challenges of studying abroad. Moreover, choosing a medical school that is recognized helps alleviate any potential problems of entering the US healthcare system. Medical students trained in the Caribbean by established and passionate universities have a transformative impact on bridging the physician shortage and meeting the healthcare needs of communities across the US.
Dr. Adedayo Akande is a Chicago-born/Antigua-raised businessman and academic. He is the Chairman and President of the Caribbean-based Medical University, the University of Health Sciences Antigua. During his tenure as President, UHSA has witnessed numerous developments. UHSA successfully moved online during the pandemic, he’s developed several international partnerships with hospitals, universities, and high schools creating pathways for interested students to pursue medicine. He also partnered with Revive Therapeutics’ research program in a commitment to studying psychedelic medicine or mental health therapies. Students attending UHSA will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with these budding therapies in addiction, PTSD, and more.