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Can International Students Attend American Medical School?

Thanks everyone who participated in our Q&A event this week. I hope it somewhat made up for the lack of real webinars happening in the world!

Our last question comes from Hana, who asked:
are there any medical scholarships for international students?

Hey look! It's a stock image of a medical person for a post about medical school
Hey look! It's a stock image of a medical person for a post about medical school

I have to admit, medical school is not an issue we’ve ever covered on this blog, and as I started to research this topic, I found out why. Going to medical school in the U.S. as an international student is pretty difficult. So much so that Yale University warns international students thinking of even pursuing a pre-med track as an undergraduate that:
It is extremely difficult for international applicants who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States to gain admission to U.S. medical schools. … International applicants who are considering a career as a medical doctor and hope to receive their education at an American medical school should think carefully before applying for admission to an undergraduate program in the United States. (Yale University admissions)

The University of Georgia offers a similar, but even more comprehensive, diatribe.

Admissions policies

I spoke to Dr. Henry Sondheimer, the senior director of medical education at the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), who told me that only a small percentage of medical schools in the U.S. even consider international students for admission to their M.D. programs.

Why? Universities that receive public funding are often instructed to use that funding for producing doctors who will go on to work in that state. In fact, some public universities don’t even accept anyone from a different state, even if they are an American citizen. Private universities are more likely to consider international students, but Dr. Sondheimer said:
Even among the private schools, although there are a percentage that consider them, if you look at the number of foreign nationals going to U.S. medical school for four years, the number is vanishingly small.

» Data showing the number of foreign nationals who matriculated at U.S. medical schools in 2011 (AAMC)

» Admissions policies for international students at U.S. medical schools (NAAHP)


As far as scholarships, Dr. Sondheimer told me that U.S. medical schools offer very little scholarship money to anyone. U.S. citizens finance a large chunk of their medical education through federal loans, which international students cannot get. An international student wanting to study in America should be, he said, “extremely wealthy” and “extremely committed.”

The policies seem to be more or less similar for D.O. degree-granting schools (D.O. = Doctor of Osteopathy). You can find out more on admissions policies for these schools on the AACOM (American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine) website.

» Hear from one international student who is studying pre-med anyway

Other opportunities

But, Sondheimer added, there are opportunities to get some medical experience in the U.S. if you are completing your medical training elsewhere. Many overseas schools have relationships with medical schools or training hospitals in the U.S., and can set up exchanges.

“There’s a huge amount of interest from our students in getting medical experience overseas, just as there is among overseas students in getting medical experience in the U.S.,” he said. “I think the opportunity to pick up several months of medical experience in the U.S. during the last year of medical school … is increasingly good.”

In addition, Sondheimer said that it is fairly common for graduates of foreign medical schools to do their residency in America. “We are not graduating enough graduates in the U.S. to fill all the first year residency positions,” he said. So the rest of those spots get filled by people from overseas medical schools.

And that’s a paid gig, which comes with an average salary of $49,000.