Financing a Dream: how do you pay for medical school?

Before I start, I want to say happy birthday to my good friend Tricia over at triciatallen. She deserves all sorts of wonderful today and I hope she gets it!

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Getting accepted into medical school is great. I was ecstatic for the first four hours after I got my confirmation email and then reality began to set in. Reality being the dramatic 7 figure tuition costs – money I had never seen (except on TV) let alone conceived of any one person having in their bank account all at once. Hello, Reality.

Which set me on the most hectic, exhilarating and distressing summer of my life thus far. Finding lots of cash in a few short months was about to be a roller coaster ride.

(Just to say that scholarships are totally an option, if you can successfully grab one. I couldn’t so. . .)


My super-awesome team of money-baggers comprised myself, my mother and my aunt (who’s practically a second mother to me). We spent July running around Montego Bay visiting every single loan institution in the city. Scotia Bank, NCB, even the Credit Union all demanded the same thing: collateral.

What is this collateral of which you speak? Collateral means having to prove that you have either (A) the exact amount of money you want to borrow already stashed in an account somewhere or (B) assets equivalent to the value of the loan you’re requesting.


I, a novice in this realm of grown-up financial navigation, was completely flabbergasted. Why on earth, I wondered incredulously, would you need to borrow the money if you already had it? I continued to vent my ire at banks and their ilk as we stalked the streets between buildings. I came close to throwing in the towel.

One friendly raincloud (you’ll see why I call it that later) that kept us company in this desert of “Please lend me – No” was the Student Loan Bureau, a private organisation semi-funded by the government but mostly running on loan reimbursements. But the SLB would not cover tuition costs that were not government sponsored.


Government sponsored? The UWI publishes two lists of tuition costs annually. One for students from contributing countries whose governments usually pay 80% of tuition costs (a full list can be found here) and one for foreign nationals (meaning everyone else).

Even though Jamaica is one of the contributors to the UWI our government has by and large squandered all our money so that they only sponsor some students, especially in the Faculty of Medicine where tuition costs are roughly twice everyone else’s. To offset the burden, the Faculty in my time offered 50% bursaries to a good many students. This is the offer I had received.

My options? Wait a year and receive government sponsorship when I entered the next class. Find a way to come up with 1.5M or find a way to get that 80% Government sponsorship. The first wasn’t an option. And when I had exhausted the second, I set my sights on the third.


My mother and I made the trip to Kingston (a trip I hadn’t made since I was about six) for an appointment with the Dean of Medicine. We questioned, he explained. We petitioned, he hesitated. We begged, and he offered a possible solution. I leaped . . .

. . . and landed in the pioneering MBBS cohort at the Western Jamaica Campus, a solution that worked out well on all fronts. At home, I wouldn’t need to pay pesky hall fees and I managed to receive the 80% sponsorship which let me approach the Student Loan Bureau (who were only too glad to sink their claws into me).

But selling my soul to the devil (a devil with 9% interest rates and a gorgeous moratorium period) is whole other story. Student loans never rain but they pour.

28 thoughts on “Financing a Dream: how do you pay for medical school?

  1. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for the in-depth commentary Robyn. This very topic is now weighing heavily on my mind since receiving my acceptance letter. I have always wondered how they determined who would pay 20 versus 50%. With medical school tuition in the US ranging anywhere from US$40-50,000 per year, I must admit that I would gladly pay JA$1,500,000. Ofcourse less would be even better.


  2. Hi there!
    I was thinking of applying to UWI for medicine (Trinidad campus). Being a doctor is not something I aimed at in school (there’s a specialty that just sounds amazing…).
    So now I would like to apply but I don’t know if my grades or subjects are enough (A levels).
    Can you give an outline of the grades in the following subjects…
    Bio, Chem and Maths plus Comm St and Carib St.
    I’m assuming there are students around you who entered with CAPE and that you communicate with them :D


    1. I sat CAPE Units 1 & 2, with those very same subjects. Your competition includes people who have all Is in both units of every subject, and people who have scored the highest in the island/Caribbean.

      That being said, you can get into Medicine with a mixture of Is and IIs (not sure about anything less). And academic involvement isn’t the only thing they look for – co-curricular activities are also weighted in your application (though not as heavily). Volunteer experience is good too.

      At the end of the day, the worst thing they can do to anyone with acceptable grades (Is, IIs, IIIs) is to delay your admission by a year. But you can spend that year in Faculty of Science and Technology keeping your academic skills sharp, like several people I’ve known.

      Good luck with your application!


      1. Thanks. Well I got Is in Bio and Chem for both units but its Maths that is bothering me. I only did Unit 1 and I got a 3. Is that enough? Do they even look at Carib St and Comm St.?


      2. The Math grade will probably bring down your overall average and Caribbean and Communication studies are important in the same way that CSEC English was important. You’re expected to get Is or IIs in them.


  3. Akee says:

    Hello, I have read a lot of the comments and I was wondering if anyone could help me. My dream is to become a Dentist. However, I’m slowly giving up on my dream. I applied to the UWI Mona’s DDS programme. I was sent an acceptance to the Sci and Tech faculty to pursue a degree in General Studies. I do not fully understand what this means. But I would just like to know what are my options? I really would like to become a Dentist especially since Jamaica is having a dental crisis at the moment. Any advice?


    1. You can reapply next year, you could apply to UTech (they also have a DDS programme) or you could seek out other schools in the Caribbean or further abroad that offer financial assistance if you need it.


  4. Grace says:

    Hi Robyn, I recently got accepted to med after one year in Science and Tech General Studies (finally! ,lol) I got my acceptance for WJC however, it’s the full fee. Does that mean Student Loan will not assist in tuition fees?
    Before receiving acceptance I had applied to them for 2nd year of Science and Tech, just in case and got approved. Just wondering if the change in faculty and programme would affect their decision. Also, where do I find the application for the 50% bursary


    1. SLB doesn’t finance more than 20% (the govt would have paid the other 80% for sponsored students). And yes, the change in Faculty and programme does affect their decision.

      The 50% bursary application has changed in recent years to an “up to 50% bursary” and I believe it may be an automatic application once you apply to the Faculty of Medicine (but don’t quote me on that).

      Best of luck figuring this out and congrats your acceptance.


  5. Brian Johnson says:

    Thumbs up with the posts yute.. .. I have since a child wanted to do medicine couldn’t afford it so I did nursing, which I have been practicing for the past five yrs… Was of the mindset that it could be used as a stepping stone only to realize that my degree (which I got from) does not of set the requirements.. So now am in the process of trying to get the cape subjects..


  6. lizzie says:

    Hey how exactly did you get the 80% subsidy?
    Did you reset any subjects?
    Did that change your…sponsorship from 50% to 80%?
    Or was it that your grades didnt help you to meet the 29/30 pts but you got close enough so they were lenient?


  7. Hey Robyn, I just reread this post. It made me think how we can defy the odds and do things that seem unimaginable… now you are a doctor! Yes, it has its challenges but you need not feel too overwhelmed. Set your sights on greater things and you’ll be able to accomplish them :) Love ya!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel like leaving some financial advice here just in case any Jamaicans interested in UWI medical school stumbles across this post. I started in academic year 2014/15 so it’s a little more recent.

    -For CAPE, the minimum requirements are both units 1 and 2 in Bio, Chem and 1 other subject. That one other subject could be Math, physics, Com Sci etc. Comm studies and Carib studies are not included but since they’re compulsory at most 6th forms, still take them seriously and aim to get decent grades. Anyway, to calculate whether or not you receive govt sponsorship (80%), each of those 6 units of CAPE are graded out of 5 to get a max. Score of 30. A One gets you 5 points, a two gets you 4 points and so on.. but honestly speaking, if you have lower than a 2 you won’t even be considered. Therefore, if you have 6 ones, you have 30 points and automatic sponsorship. With 5 ones and a 2, that’s 29 points and you’re likely gonna be OK. Things have got super competitive so 28 points no longer guarantees sponsorship and lower than that, if you’re accepted, will be full fee paying (currently us$28,000 or 3.5mil jcan).

    – If you have a 2 in something and didn’t get sponsored, the cheapest option is to take some private extras classes and resit the subject. Use that year off to also do some volunteering or work if you’re lucky enough to get a job, then reapply. Or, you can go to SciTech for a year but that’s a whole year’s worth of tuition (nearly 300k) when you could spend under $100k. I have friends who have done both options and got into medical school but the difference between them was cost (and to be honest, option 1 is easier. SciTech isn’t easy.. you’ll need a GPA of above 3.8 to transfer with subsidy and both options are equally weighted). Not all my scitech friends got in with subsidy after bussing their ass off for a year and nearly all my friends who took a gap year to resit CAPE did.

    -Re scholarships. In 2014 after searching long and hard, I am only aware of 5 options which cover medical students. You’ll find most tertiary scholarships explicitly say NO MBBS/DDS (and now LLB) STUDENTS. Anyway, these are the UWI Open scholarship, Annual Jamaica Scholarships (Jamaica Male/Female, Independence Male/Female, Adult Suffrage, Centennial… it’s one application form.. application deadline usually in March of your applying year for university)… full tuition plus a 75k grant, the Emancipation Scholarship.. full tuition, NCB scholarship (only $250k unless you’re fortunate to get island champion which in that case is $500k) and UWI offers one on the med sci page.. forgot its name. Apply for them all even if you don’t think your grades are all that. Yes you need majority ones and maybe an island/regional placement but again, you never know.

    -the Annual Jamaica Scholarships and Emancipation scholarships bind you to work in Jamaica for 5 years btw. I hate how people make a big deal of it. It’s not! Don’t let this discourage you from applying. By time you’re done internship and your subsequent SHO year, you only have 3 years left to work… and you’re getting paid. And debt-free… so go ahead, apply!

    Best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I scored 30 points this year and I was not given any subsidy but full fee. I am not the only person that scored 30 to receive full fee. I have no subjects to resit. I am fed up after working so hard.


      1. Wow, that’s awful. I’ve heard that sponsored spaces were cut but I didn’t think it was by that much. I’m really sorry to hear that. If medicine is really what you want to do, don’t give up just yet. Try and schedule a meeting with the Dean and go in to the office of student financing. Your hard work will pay off somehow. Just trust God and the process. Whatever you do though, don’t go into sci tech with the possibility of transfer after 1 year. Those sponsored spaces are even fewer than coming in straight out of sixth form.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Suzanne says:

        Leave no stone unturned. I migrated to the over two decades ago, received a B.A. in Biology and then worked in neuroscience research for a decade before applying to UWI. I was able to qualify for the 80% subsidy but could not get funding in Jamaica or the US to cover the rest. I was very disappointed when I could not attend. I pressed on, explored other options and am now in medical school in the US on a full scholarship courtesy of the Navy. If medicine is your passion, God always open doors to make the seemingly impossible possible. I wish you all the best.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Last thing I should add with those scholarships.. they come with Gpa requirements to maintain them for each year so yes, this does bring constant stress and anxiety on top of the regular stress and anxiety with being a medical student. For the annual Ja scholarships and UWI Open scholarships, that requirement is a GPA of 3.0 and you’re not allowed to fail even a single subject. (Hard but doable if you push yourself. Trust me, it CAN be done). For NCB, their gpa requirement was 3.3. 😒 A little annoying considering they give way less money but it is what it is.

    -JAMVAT is also an option that pays 1/3 of your tuition and requires 200hrs community service per year. I know nothing about this option sjnce I didn’t apply but Google it or call the Ministry of Education tertiary unit for more info. (Tel #: 612-6046-50). Call them for info on the Ja and Emancipation scholarships as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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