I would like to go to the US to study medicine. Any advice?
Susanne Jones, Abu Dhabi, via email  

Pursuing medicine in the US is a little different from studying medicine in other parts of the world. While in the latter case, you would be going to medical school after completion of high school and pre-medical education, in the US, it is generally a requirement that you first have a degree in any discipline (given prerequisite courses in the biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, behavioural and social sciences and humanities). Given the high degree of competition and limited seats in colleges, it is advantageous to complete your undergraduate degree in the US to gain admission to medical school.

While the admission process requires a lot of planning and preparation, quite a number of international students seem to manage it very well. The first task is to understand how the system works.

The process of graduating from a US medical school happens in three steps: Undergraduate education (four years), Medical school (four years), and a residency programme (three to four years).

These are the three major phases which means you are looking at a total of 11-12 years of studying. Most students take time off after undergraduate studies to prepare for medical school and to get good grades in the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is a standardised computer-based exam administered in the US and internationally at test centres.

Getting into medical school, like getting into most other competitive programmes not only requires students to have good academic credentials, but also a certain degree of awareness, exposure and leadership capabilities built up through extracurricular activities, work experience and volunteering in communities or professional organisations. While being an excellent student is a definite requirement, students, particularly international scholars, may have to prove that they are bringing with them something special - such as a unique perspective or exceptional experience.

This will help them stand apart from others and give admission committees more reasons to consider their candidacy. Because competition is high, the personal attributes of candidates become just as equally important in judging who gets accepted and who doesn't.

Although doing your undergraduate studies in the US and applying to medical school directly is one option, it is not the only way. Over the years, a popular route to medical education in the US is joining the programme at graduate level. This means students who have already gone through medical school in their home country or other countries will be able to do residency programmes and sub-specialise further if they can meet the entry requirements. The entry requirement in this case is a separate certification programme administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). The ECFMG requires English proficiency (TOEFL), a degree in medicine; a pass in both steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and a pass in the Clinical Skills Assessment exam.

Over the years, the second option has opened doors for a lot of medical professionals who have gone through medical school elsewhere to pursue more specialised training and sub-specialisations in the US.

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Verma began his career with Ernst & Young before moving on to set up the Gulf operations of IDP Education Pty. He now leads Intelligent Partners in Dubai developing a wide range of solutions in areas of international education.

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