How to Pick a Good Medical School

Medical education is considered one of the most prestigious and respected programs to study in university worldwide with strict academic and humanitarian requirements for admission ensuring that only the crème de la crème of possible candidates ever get selected. The lengthy duration and the relatively restrictive tuition fees makes it a course only for the truly dedicated and financially endowed. Several academic scholarships do provide means to those without the capacity to comfortably fulfill the fiscal obligations but there is always room for more opportunities.   

When considering applying to med school, several factors must be looked at especially relating to personal circumstances, commitment to completing the program and dedication to the altruistic cause of the betterment of human existence through the preservation of health, provided the academic requirements are met. For those who do make the giant leap and apply, there is the added headache of where to apply to. This article aims to help make that decision much easier.

  1. Budget

When considering what medical school you want to go to, the most important factor to consider is how deep your pockets are. This is by far the most important aspect of selecting a medical school, with almost every other factor hinging on how much you are willing to spend on your education. It is safe to say that this is the limiting factor when choosing where you want to study. It determines whether you can attend school locally or abroad, what type of accommodation you will reside in for the duration of the course, the number of textbooks you will physically own, any electronic devices like laptops or tablets you will buy if you do not already own any and just how much disposable income you will have for upkeep. 

It simply follows that the more you have to spend, the more comfortable you will be with your choice of medical school, and for as long as you have the grades and CV to back it up, admission is almost guaranteed. Hope is not lost for those on a shoestring budget. As alluded to earlier, scholarships are widely available to enable people of the appropriate economic background to access even the most outrageously expensive medical schools. The widespread access to loans also enables a lot of people to afford medical school and a good number of people actually finance their education through them.

How much one needs to start medical school entirely lies on the choices of medical school, whether or not you will be charged as a local or foreign student and how much you are willing to spend on the aforementioned items.

A good place to start from is making a list of universities that you wish to apply to and make a checklist of the pros and cons for each university. In the event that you get accepted to several, you will be able to determine which one is the best fit based on your comparison of the universities. And if you only get accepted to one, you will assured that it would not break the bank.

  1. Study locally or abroad

Another important factor to consider is whether you would like to study locally or abroad. The number of medical schools is tightly regulated by the respective educational authorities and this has been more or less a means of ensuring quality control of the universities offering medical education. 

For example, a quick check at the world directory of medical schools showed that there are only 25 medical schools in the southern African region serving 8 countries which definitely ramps up the competition for places. Compare this with Afghanistan that has 32 medical universities that are on the list. If you include the restrictions that some countries place on enrolment into medical schools for example local population quotas, barring foreign nationals from enrolling and exorbitant levies to foreign students, this may sway your decision to apply to any medical university abroad. 

Contrary to this though, some countries are more than willing to host foreign nationals in their medical universities and this has spurred growth in international education consultancy. Some investment and insurance companies have even developed products tailored to putting away money for your child to pursue studies overseas. More and more families are taking the economic decision to send their children abroad to offset the critical shortage of places at local university and provide them with an international qualification and experience.

Popular destinations include the Caribbean medical schools that assure one of a US styled medical education, Russia, Ukraine and China. Ultimately, the decision to study locally or overseas will depend on your budget.

  1. Ranking

Does the ranking of the school you intend to go to matter? Well, yes and no. It is not really a question that has a single answer. Several ranking systems have been devised to compare universities against each other and several ever-changing lists exist online that aim at highlighting the performance of these universities. Most of the rankings compare universities on teaching, human resource, international repute, contribution to industry and intellectual property, research and influence on research. 

While the ranking of a university is important especially when one is contemplating further progression in their medical career such as pursuing advanced postgraduate studies, it may not be important when it comes to the aspect of licensing as a medical doctor. For as long as you studied at a recognized medical school and completed your training successfully, you have the right to be registered and licensed as a medical professional and can work as a doctor, which may  be dependent on whether or not you have completed an internship. 

The World Directory of Medical Schools curated by World Federation for Medical Education, WFME and Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research, FAIMER is a good place to start when looking for a medical school especially if you intend to study abroad but bear in mind that it does endorse or accredit any of the listed schools directly. Some medical schools may in fact be locally accredited and not listed but it’s always good to see a medical school on the list. Of course having a prestigious medical school on your CV will be a bonus for any applicant and no recruiter will not notice this. It will also provide you with a whole host of reputable college professors and an alumni that can allow you to progress rapidly and efficiently especially in areas of research.

  1. Private or state school

Medical education has been the preserve of state run schools for several years and even to this day, they dominate it. Several countries do not even allow private medical universities from being set up. However, the liberalization of medical education in other countries has led to the establishment of universities of great repute such as Columbia University in New York. It has also allowed for more people to enroll into medicine and increase the national pool of available places in medical schools. 

When considering which to apply to, always bear in mind that there is usually a cost issue to reflect on. State schools tend to subsidize their medical education and numerous scholarships are available especially for natives of that country. Private schools tend to be more expensive than state schools, in part to some of the fees associated with ensuring compliance with regulators being transferred to the student. Scholarship opportunities are also fewer. Essentially, the choice will again fall squarely on the budget you have set aside for tuition.

  1. Duration

Medical school runs from as short as 4 years to as long as 7 years depending on the individual university stipulations and what other academic qualifications you may have. The longer courses, usually between 5-7 years are for direct entrants coming in after completing high school or with no other collegiate experience. Shorter durations like 4 years usually require you to have attained a Bachelor’s degree in a related field with an exceptional performance. Furthermore, this may be subject to passing a pre-entry examination for admission in to medical school such as the BioMedical Admissions Test, BMAT of the UK and the MCAT Medical College Admission Test of the USA.

Offsetting the duration may be one way of reducing the total cost of medical education and should be seriously considered especially if there are budgetary constraints.

  1. Accommodation

Finally, where one intends to reside may influence ones decision to choose where to study. There are 3 possibilities here. You could stay on campus or campus provided accommodation. You may perhaps prefer to stay in a nearby private residence or boarding house. You may also wish to be staying at home and commuting to school whenever your classes are in session. All these factors boil down to what you want as an individual and if you have the financial resources to support it.

Staying in school is becoming increasingly difficult with increasing enrolment and prioritisation of students who are not residing in the locality of the university. However, alternatives such as boarding houses or commuting from home are viable options. Depending on the commute, coming from home may actually be the cheapest residence option but the circumstances at home may not be the most conducive when it comes to ensuring a good study environment. Choosing what is most comfortable for you with consideration for the budget is the best option and will ensure you have a tranquil and easy progression through your academic journey.

Hopefully with all the factors discussed, making your choice of medical school will be easier.