Accessibility links

Getting the Edge as an International Applicant to Medical School

Just like every foreign student planning to apply for medical school in the United States, I have heard all the stories deterring us from even considering this option. They're not just rumors. The admissions office at Yale University says on its webpage:
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.

Johns Hopkins University agrees with this standpoint, explaining:
International students not holding a green card will have a more challenging time in the school admissions process, because only a limited number of schools can consider them.

The facts

After many hours of digging into some sources on this topic, I found that out of the 141 accredited medical schools in the U.S., a little less than half do not even accept applications from anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (although some of them consider Canadians). Out of these, I could literally count on my fingers those that appear to offer any financial help in the form of a scholarship.

A main reason for this is that many medical schools rely on state funding and so their priority is to educate residents of that state. Another reason medical programs don’t accept international students, according to Purdue University, is:
They are investing in you. Their fear, often based on past experience, is that you could lose your funding midway through your training and their investment would then be lost.

Even international graduates from American undergraduate institutions face a tough situation if they want to study medicine here – Hope College testifies to that on its website:
We believe it is unfair and dishonest to suggest that attending a US college or university will provide international students with a strong chance of gaining admission to medical school.

And they even provide us with some very specific figures:
In 2010, there were 42,742 applicants to U.S. medical schools. Only 1300 (3%) were not U.S. residents or citizens (foreign students). Of the 42,742 applicants, 18,665 (44%) were accepted and matriculated. However, only 171 of these 18,665 were non-residents or non-citizens.

From those numbers it follows that about 13 percent of the international students who applied to medical school that year were accepted and enrolled. That’s compared to a rate of 45 percent for the American students.

These numbers are backed by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) matriculation report from 2012, which also came up with about 13% of international students applicants matriculating.

My plan

So what do I want to do about this? I am definitely not backing down in my ambition. But before I explain, let me introduce myself at this point.

My name is Marek Svoboda, and I come from the Czech Republic. I am a Czech citizen and resident - that is where my family lives and where I spend my summer and winter breaks. Currently I am studying neuroscience and behavior at Columbia College of Columbia University. And I am going to apply for a medical school in the U.S. pretty soon.

What’s my strategy? First of all, I need to do everything any other applicant for a medical school does, only I have to do it better. That means studying relevant subjects (fulfilling the pre-medical requirements of most schools), studying them well (maintaining a high GPA and reaching a high score on the MCAT), and proving that I am cut out for being a medical doctor by dedicating my free time to relevant activities (such as engaging in research, gaining clinical experience, or volunteering) during both school years and school breaks.

But there is another way I’m planning to increase my chances.

The number of international matriculants at U.S. medical schools is so low in part because most of them cannot afford the full cost of medical education, and so they can only apply for those several schools that provide at least some form of financial support. If I can find resources to support me through those four years, my options would open up considerably. Instead of the limited number of schools that accept international students and offer aid, I would be able to apply to any of the 60 or so schools that admit foreign students but do not give them any money.

Of course, it is quite hard to persuade someone to give or lend you about $300,000, which is the cost of attending an American medical school for four years once you've factored in room, board and all the other costs of living.

During my undergraduate studies so far I have been supported by the Kellner Family Foundation, which supports talented Czech undergraduates studying abroad and which has covered most of my expenses, including tuition, housing, and food. Although this organization usually does not support students during their graduate studies, I am hoping to find another similar donor that would be willing to help me become a medical doctor.

There are foundations and funds out there willing to help talented young students pursue their dreams. I just have to look long enough and be persistent in my efforts (and, of course, I have to be a good enough student to merit their support). For me, this is the great hope against all those unfavorable statistics.

Plans b and c

If I do not find any source of funding, I will still go ahead and apply for an American medical college, hoping to be competitive enough for those few generous schools that might accept me with financial support.

And what if I am not? Since I speak English and also some French I can try to apply for medical schools in Great Britain, France, and also the Czech Republic, after all, where the conditions would probably be considerably more favorable for me as an E.U. citizen.

However, most of these medical schools do not separate undergraduate and graduate levels like the U.S. system does, so I would likely have to start from scratch, making my four undergraduate years in the U.S. redundant. That would not be all that bad though – I would say that receiving a liberal arts education at my current college is worth having to spend a couple of extra years at school, whatever my future academic pathway may be.

At any rate, wish me (and all of us) good luck; there is still a long way to go.

You can read more from Marek on hid blog: