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One of the top searches that have led to my blog this past week was “what is uwi medical school like?”. I Googled the phrase myself and my post opining medical school was the third search result on the page, after the official UWI websites. Third, you guys.
So, what is UWI med school like?
The forum members who keep asking the question tend to be asking about three different things:
- How different is it from American medical schools, or offshore universities?
- How qualified will you be when you leave?
- Does it prepare you for the USMLEs?
The medical school at the University of the West Indies, Mona is only one of three whose other campuses are at Cave Hill in Barbados and St. Augustine in Trinidad. As far as I’ve ever heard, the Mona medical programme is the best of the lot. Similarly, Trinidad excels at engineering and Barbados at law.
Our MB;BS programme awards you a Bachelor in Medicine and a Bachelor in Surgery and it’s 5 years long. The first 2-2.5 years are pre-clinical and scientifically oriented but the remainder are strongly clinically based. From what I’ve seen and heard, American universities tend to gloss over the clinical aspects of medicine in an effort to make their students pass board exams. In the West Indies, licensing requirements vary by country and many graduates may not even end up practicing in the Caribbean. What the UWI does is provide a strong clinical foundation from which a good physician will be able to practice medicine competently, with much less emphasis on just passing exams.
In terms of admission, our matriculation requirements are still based on the UK system of A levels – C.A.P.E. – where standardized exam grades are used to determine your acceptance. They do take GPAs into consideration with the completion of a first degree or an Associate’s but not everyone who applies have these. Class sizes are quite big, and the trend for the last few years was that students from countries that contributed to the UWI would find it fairly easy to get in (for a myriad of economically related reasons). For the most part they’ve stopped that, but the class of 2015 still boasts 300+ students. This number keeps on climbing.
When you graduate the UWI, you will have earned the title M.D. and you will have a dual degree in Medicine and Surgery. This qualifies you to practice pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean, at least for your intern year. After that you sit a licensing exam to be able to practice in the country of your choice. Several med students prepare for the USMLEs in their own time to widen their opportunities and this is actually encouraged. But our curriculum is not particularly geared towards sitting that exam.
This is how it all works in theory. From a real-life standpoint, I find much to complain about in the didactic teaching regime of the first two years. They seem to be training us to sit and pass exams rather than retain this information for any kind of clinical application. In their defence, most of the doctors treat us like we’re starting from scratch once we begin our junior clinical rotations in third year and they don’t expect us to know anything except the basics. Medicine is an apprenticeship, they keep telling us, just get through the first two years and you’ll be fine.
From my biased point of view, I have grown rather fond of the medical programme, particularly the one at the UWI Mona-Western Jamaica Campus which I was very sorry to leave. I greatly respect the emphasis on clinical ability rather than “book-learning” that is displayed by almost every doctor we come in contact with. I firmly believe that this kind of training makes you a much more competent, capable physician because by the time you graduate you will have more or less been practising medicine for three years already.
And that’s what medical school here at UWI Mona boils down to: clinical expertise.