Medical schools saddling students with debt

Published 29/12/2022

International students attending medical schools in the Caribbean are being saddled with huge loan debts while facing limited chances of securing residency positions needed to become practising doctors, a new study has said.

The students, primarily from the US and Canada, are lured to the for-profit medical schools after failing to gain admission in their home countries. However, many find it hard to come up with the money to pay tuition, which often amounts to $100,000 or more.

Students at the Caribbean schools are not eligible for US government loans, the study by the Student Defense organisation noted. However, it says the medical programs advise the students to secure funding by enrolling in concurrent online study for a master’s degree with a US-based college.

Federal government regulations say these monies can only be used for the specific course designated in the loan agreement. In its report, Student Defense calls on the government to close this loan loophole.

“It’s really putting the students in a challenging spot,” said Student Defense spokeswoman Libby Webster. “They’re the ones who will be held accountable for misusing the funds when the school is encouraging them to do so. It’s the school that should be held accountable.

“It’s really putting the students in a challenging spot”

“These students don’t need these extra degrees because they already have bachelor’s degrees,” Webster continued. “They are in a particularly financially vulnerable situation and don’t want to quit medical school because of finances. They’re easy prey.”

Student Defense, a Washington-based non-profit advocacy group, cites 18 medical schools in the Caribbean that partner with three online US schools to get backdoor loans.

The medical students face two major barriers in achieving their goal of becoming physicians. After completing their second year of study, they must pass step one of the US medical licensing exam. If they fail, the students are left without a medical degree – but still have huge student loans to repay.

Secondly, in order to practice medicine in the US or Canada, medical school graduates must secure residency positions. About 94% of those who complete their studies at a US-based school get spots.

However, almost half of the American students who graduate from an offshore program do not win a position. They have a medical degree but can’t get a license to practice.

Canadians who study at the Caribbean medical schools face an even tougher situation. Just 27% of these graduates are chosen to become residents in Canada, according to data from the Canadian Resident Matching Service.

The report cited the case of one American student who enrolled in a Caribbean school and took out a loan for a US-based online school at the same time. After two years of studying medicine, she felt that she was not ready to take the first stage of the medical licensing exam.

She opted to self-study for a further 18 months. Nevertheless, she did not pass. She decided to drop out but still has $100,000 in loans hanging over her head. The woman is now studying nursing in Illinois.

Abigail Moats, the author of the report for Student Defense, said she did not know how many students from the U.S. and Canada were impacted. The medical schools do not publish enrolment data, she noted.

The PIE News reached out to several of the Caribbean medical schools and their US-based online partner colleges. It did not receive a response from any of them.

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