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Subpar? Not Caribbean medical schools or their students

Michael Uva, a 2010 graduate of St. George's University in Grenada, sits for a photograph in New York, on Aug. 19, 2013. Uva has $400,000 in medical school loans and currently earns $30 an hour overseeing a blood donation clinic in New Jersey, where he also draws blood.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg
Michael Uva, a 2010 graduate of St. George's University in Grenada, sits for a photograph in New York, on Aug. 19, 2013. Uva has $400,000 in medical school loans and currently earns $30 an hour overseeing a blood donation clinic in New Jersey, where he also draws blood.
Posted Sept. 18, 2013, at 1:05 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 18, 2013, at 4:33 p.m.

As the Chancellor of St. George’s University, I had the privilege of being the co-founder of the university that started it all in the Caribbean. At this date, more than 1 percent of all doctors practicing medicine in the U.S. are graduates of St. George’s University, and many of them have become faculty members and prominent researchers at U.S. medical schools.

I am quite surprised, and considerably dismayed, by the Bloomberg View editorial (an abbreviated version appeared Sept. 15 in the BDN) which accepted the misleading facts and dubious conclusions in Janet Lorin’s article on medical students who attend international medical schools utilizing U.S. loan program. Lorin’s article attempts to make a point about U.S. tax dollars being wasted on U.S. students studying medicine abroad.

The Bloomberg View editorial board should have checked the facts and questioned the nonsensical conclusions of what can hardly be viewed as a credible news article. Instead, Bloomberg concluded a facile and weak editorial with the words, “What doesn’t make sense is to continue providing federal money for subpar results.”

Unfortunately, the case for labeling students at international medical schools — and international medical schools themselves — as “subpar” is completely unsubstantiated. Lorin misuses the phrase “Medical School Rejects” in both the body and headline of her article, and the editorial echoes it.

We believe that attacking all students at foreign medical schools as “rejects” is mean-spirited and unfair. Virtually all students attending medical schools at this moment were rejected by at least one medical school. In 2012, the average applicant applied to 14 medical schools.

The Association of American Medical Colleges has called for a 30 percent increase over 2002 in the first-year medical student intake at U.S. schools. This will result in 4,888 new U.S. medical school students in 2017. If we were to follow Lorin’s logic, then we would have to conclude that all 4,888 new medical students would have been “subpar” in 2002.

The reality is that an admissions committee does not decide who is qualified to study medicine, but rather is charged to choose the best students from the applicant pool who fit with the mission and demographic goals of its particular institution. Their decision is in no way a final judgment on the candidate’s ability to study and practice medicine. This is a basic principle of all institutions of higher learning. How could Bloomberg have missed this?

As for the concept of “subpar results,” in 2012, St. George’s University medical students achieved a 97 percent first-time taker pass rate on the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination I. First-time takers at U.S. and Canadian schools in the same year achieved a 96 percent pass rate. Does Bloomberg suggest that students at U.S. schools are subpar? We are confused.

Another one of Lorin’s misguided assumptions is that the international medical schools whose students are taking U.S. loan dollars are not accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and are therefore “subpar.”

The LCME does not review or accredit medical schools and programs outside of the U.S. or Canada. Like St. George’s, neither Oxford nor Cambridge’s medical degree programs have LCME accreditation — but they have comparable accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

SGU, and the other schools of medicine that have been approved for U.S. loans, have gone through a rigorous accreditation process. Grenada’s accreditation standards and process have undergone a review by the U.S. Department of Education. Grenada was one of the first four countries whose accreditation standards were deemed by the department’s National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation to be comparable to those used in the U.S. The other three were the U.K., Australia and Canada.

The editorial board of the Bloomberg Markets magazine utilized the term “subpar” in a reckless fashion, damaging the reputation of thousands of practicing physicians around the world as well as students currently studying at international medical schools.

Although St. George’s University wasn’t the focus of the article or editorial, we are concerned that the stigma it conveys will negatively impact our dedicated and hardworking students and graduates unjustly.

If there is anything subpar in all of this, it is the shoddy reporting and irresponsible editorial oversight of the Bloomberg Markets magazine.

Charles R. Modica is chancellor of St. George’s University, an independent school of medicine located in Grenada.

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