While there are generally no limits on which subjects international students can study abroad, medical studies are one exception. Med schools are highly regulated, and not all schools accept foreign students or people who don’t speak a particular language. Some schools favour local candidates over international students. Furthermore, med schools are expensive and very hard to get into. Thus when it comes to pursuing medical studies, it’s important to do your homework.
1. If you want to study abroad, don’t attend med school at home.
Since it’s notoriously difficult to get accepted into top medical schools in countries like the US and Canada, you might think that it makes sense for you to start your studies in your home country first and transfer abroad later. This is a bad idea. Transferring credits between medical schools, especially those located in different countries, is extremely challenging. Since education standards and curricula vary greatly from one country to another, it’s best to apply directly to the school that you want to graduate from – even if it’s really hard to get in.
2. Decide where you would like to work afterward.
Before you apply to a particular medical school, take a moment to think about where you see yourself living in the future. The general rule is that the country where you study is where you will have the easiest time getting licensed to practice medicine after graduation. If you know you would like to work as a doctor in Australia, your best bet is to study Down Under. If the US is calling your name, you should apply to an American med school to make things easier. If you study medicine outside of the US and then arrive in the country as an international medical graduate (IMG), you will have to jump through a lot of hoops before you can start working. Among other requirements, you will need to pass several rigorous licensing exams and get accepted into a residency internship program in the US.
3. Pay attention to the school’s reputation.
If studying in your target country isn’t an option and you are heading abroad elsewhere, make sure that the med school you are applying to is well-known internationally. This will help you start your global career afterward. Those wanting to work in Canada, for example, need to have a degree from a school that is recognized by the Medical Council of Canada (MCC). Wherever you plan on applying, get to know your future school well before investing thousands of dollars into tuition. Use resources such as the World Directory of Medical Schools, the Medical Schools Council and the school’s official website to check on the standards.
4. Impress the school with your top-notch qualifications.
Med school entry requirements vary greatly, with some countries like the UK allowing students to apply directly after high school or upper secondary school. American med schools, on the other hand, require applicants to have a science-based bachelor’s degree. Check out your dream school’s requirements as early as possible so that you can meet them. In any case, medical schools appreciate people with a strong background in sciences. Make your application stand out by excelling in high-level biology, chemistry and mathematics classes at your current institution.
5. Start your application preparation early.
In many countries, such as the UK and the US, you need to apply to med school a full year before the prospective start date of your studies. Thus you will need to do your preliminary research even earlier. This is because you need to reserve ample time for completing the required tests, be it the MCAT, UKCAT, TOEFL or IELTS. Get your finances in order too: Med schools in the US will not let international students apply without proof of savings. Finally, you will need to craft a spectacular personal essay, and this is not done overnight. Take your time to think of a unique reason as to why you want to go into medicine, and explain how the field would benefit from you becoming a doctor.
Mirva Lempiäinen is a US-educated freelance journalist from Finland. After calling New York City home for about a decade, she now resides on the French-Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.