Mona vs. St. Augustine: A Comparative Analysis

Recently I was asked about the differences between preclinical years at UWI Mona and UWI St. Augustine. Answering the question necessitated research on my part which turned up undergraduate handbooks detailing the MBBS courses at both St. Augustine and Cave Hill. I used my own experience of the Mona courses because I figured they would be more accurate that any handbook I found online. (On that note, if anyone who has studied at Cave Hill or St. Augustine wants to share experiences please do). What follows is my ridiculously detailed comparison of the two campuses.

Brief background:

The University of the West Indies Mona campus was the first to offer medical education, as far back as 1948 when the university itself was founded. Since then, we’ve been at the forefront of medical education in the Caribbean (at least until US offshore medical schools began taking up residence).

In 1979, Trinidad’s St. Augustine campus opened what was to become the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex and launched its own medical school. Cave Hill’s medical programme received accreditation in 2006 and created its Faculty of Medical Sciences in 2008.

If we’re talking about years of experience churning out medical professionals, Mona leads with 66 followed by St. Augustine with 35 and Cave Hill brings up the rear with 8. But a good medical school is more that the sum of its years.

(I won’t be discussion Cave Hill’s courses here because they pretty much follow Mona’s system to the letter).

On its website, the St. Augustine Faculty of Medical Sciences boasts that it is the only Caribbean medical school to offer the problem based learning system, a modality that is actually occasionally employed by its counterparts at the Mona campus. We call it case based learning and it forms a significant part of our third year courses. But the Trinidadian med school does a lot of other things differently.

At first glance the structure of St. Augustine’s preclinical years is a little confusing to me. The end results of the courses are the same but Trinidad sets their classes up with an international sort of panache.

Pre-Clinical “Paraclinical” Courses

Course Mona St. Augustine
Fundamentals of Disease and Treatment Year 1 Sem 1 Basic Paraclinical Sciences Year 1 Sem 1
Biochemistry/Biology Cell Biology* Year 1 Environment and Health Year 1 Sem 1
Molecular Medicine* Environment and Health
Intro to Embryology & Histology Year 1 Sem 1 No similar course.
Neurosciences Neuroscience of the PNS No similar course.
Neuroscience of the CNS Neuroscience and Behaviour
Basic Haematology Year 1 Sem 2 Basic Paraclinical Sciences Year 1 Sem 1
Health Care Concepts Year 1 Sem 2 Communication Skills and Healthcare Interactions* Year 2 Sem 1
Intro to Medical Practice 1 Year 1 Sem 2 The Health Professional and Client Care* Year 2 Sem 2

Pre-Clinical System Based Courses

Course Mona St. Augustine
Locomotor System Year 1 Sem 1 Year 2 Sem 2
Cardiovascular System Year 1 Sem 2 Year 1 Sem 2
Respiratory System Year 1 Sem 2 Year 2 Sem 1
Digestive System Year 2 Sem 1 Year 1 Sem 2
Endocrine System Year 2 Sem 1 Year 2 Sem 2
Renal System Year 2 Sem 2 Year 1 Sem 2
Reproductive System Year 2 Sem 2 Year 2 Sem 2

*There was no description available for the course so I made my best guess as to the correlation.

UWI St. Augustine covers a lot of ground with their Basic Paraclinical Sciences, basically smushing together a range of courses that Mona keeps separate (Fundamentals of Disease and Treatment, Haematology, and a little bit of Health Care Concepts). Mona may offer its students more breadth and depth with the subjects by keeping them all separated.

They also have a three-tiered Applied Paraclinical Sciences course that pulls out the pathologies of the various clinical systems to study them as separate entities (with emphasis on diagnosis and management). This might help train clinical thinking by linking complicated pathophysiology with presentation and management, something us Mona students struggle with when we hit the wards.

Another difference is that Mona combines systems in a semester based on anatomical location, while St. Augustine combines them based on physiological function. For instance Mona pairs the cardiovascular system with respiratory while St. Augustine pairs it with renal.

Overall I think the difference lies not with the quality of the subject matter, but with a student’s individual learning preferences. The Mona and St. Augustine campuses present the same basic information in markedly different ways, letting the University of the West Indies appeal to at least two totally different kinds of student.

Ultimately the decision to study at a particular medical school depends on a lot more than academic offerings (which are usually fairly universal). Prospective undergrads have to think about tuition and travel costs, career opportunities and willingness or ability to leave home. But if you’re seriously taking into consideration how you will be taught (and not many people do but it is more important than you realize) then hopefully this analysis helps you make the right choice for you.

Of course the right choice would be to forego medical school altogether and save yourself.

As always, thank you for listening. And please, I love comments and the discussions they spark. Drop a line telling me if you agree or disagree with anything or if I helped you in any way.

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References:
St. Augustine MBBS Handbook
Cave Hill MBBS Handbook

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