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.


St. Augustine MBBS Handbook
Cave Hill MBBS Handbook

The rain in Spain . . . falls mainly in Spain and not in Mona

An Open Letter of Complaint to the NWC and UWI Mona.

This drought is like the Never-Ending Story (without the awesome flying wish dragon, because we would all be wishing for WATER).

We are boiling, scorching, dusty, deprived and badly in need of showers. The halls of residence at the University of the West Indies Mona have been dropping like flies, succumbing one by one to the almost absolute water shortage. And you know once it hits New Post Grad, all hope is lost. It has been going on since early April (several weeks at this point), with no end in sight.

Image not mine.

Maybe I’m being melodramatic.

Mary Seacole is down to about 4 functioning bathrooms (for ~200 girls). Water pressure falls to unusable levels every midday to late afternoon and I am about to start learning Native American rain dances. (Unless we’re in Taino rain god jurisdiction).

Maybe I’m not being so melodramatic after all.

I may sound like a spoiled little city girl, but I need my running water. Can’t live without it. At night I cuddle up to the certainty that if I need to spring from my bed at 2AM to go do whatever it is girls do in the bathroom (and we’re not telling) there will be water in the taps. This certainty is gone, and I feel like I’m free-falling towards a bed of pointy, unwashed rocks.

Image credit: jsuley.blogspot

We need action. Of the blocked roads and burnt tires block road and bun tiya variety. I’m hesitant to call UWI out because the last time students got riled, some serious shit went down. But we are in dire straits. We can’t live like this for much longer.

Call the guild.
Call the principal.
Call TVJ.
Call Portia.
Book me a hotel room.
Book us all hotel rooms.

Something needs to be done and soon.


Dehydrated and Destitute.


The title of this post is appropriate because, according to Google, Spanish Town has been experiencing rainfall for most of this week. Clearly their rain gods aren’t pissed at them. Get your act together, Mona.


It’s not just me, either: Final Year Student’s letter to the editor. If she thinks Mona only houses 600 students, she’s waaay off the mark. But otherwise distressingly spot on.



When going to a hockey game in Mona, Kingston

Tips on being a spectator from someone whose only prior experience involved a TV and a sofa.

Bring the biggest, warmest sweater you own. Or that someone else owns. I froze my butt off almost literally yesterday from sitting on the metal bleachers. Nor was I wearing the warmest of blouses. And jeans don’t help.

Bring a cushion for you tush-on. Like I mentioned, the dangers of butt-freeze are clear and present. Protect your gluteus maximus with a cushion, or a bag with no breakables like glasses tucked away in invisible pockets. Be especially careful of glasses.

Expect it to get very boring very quickly. The games started out whizzing by at super speeds, but by the time the last match rolled around I was counting down the seconds. Patience is a tropical virtue. Nobody likes to be waiting when they can’t feel their toes.

Bring hot food. All those movies and series I watched where spectators took Thermoses full of soup to night games obviously went over my head. I was left cold and starving for the two hours it took them to finish playing. Learn from my mistakes.

Keep your eyes on the action. Sitting in the stands is actually very distracting. You’ve got the Bajan trio in front of you discussing everything from Rihanna to the exchange rate; the irate council member at the back having a “private” conversation in stage whispers; and the pissed off and injured members of the girls’ team who keep lambasting their team mate. Keeping your eyes on the ball – or at least your favourite player – proves difficult, especially when good plays disappear in the blink of an eye.

Be enthusiastic. It’s easy to forget your frozen appendages, your empty stomach and your splitting headache when you’re on your feet cheering for your favourite player. For someone who knows absolutely nothing about hockey, I was actually kept enthralled by the game because I was enthusiastic about that one player.


I hope these encourage someone to come keep me company on the bleachers next time.