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Foreign Medical Students Face Difficulties in the U.S.

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University of Miami medical student Francisco Halili helps a young man with an eye exam.
University of Miami medical student Francisco Halili helps a young man with an eye exam.

International students seeking a medical degree in the United States face serious difficulties.

First, there is often a language barrier. Students from non-English speaking countries could have a hard time understanding their work or communicating with professors.

Also, a medical education is very costly. First, students must complete an undergraduate degree. Then, most medical schools require at least four years of study. After medical school, students do at least three more years of training in their specific medical fields. They do receive some pay for this work.

In addition, many medical programs at public universities in the U.S. do not accept international students. And private universities have fewer openings, creating a great deal of competition.

However, receiving a medical education in the U.S. is not impossible. Fatima Ismail is proof. The 32-year-old from Dubai says she knew she wanted to be a doctor at a very early age.

'I was always fascinated by the brain and how it functions. And I love working with children. There is a huge population of children with developmental disabilities that are not taken care of very well in Middle East in general and my home country, in particular.'

So, Ismail completed medical school in her home country. Then, she applied to a residency program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Ismail spent time as an exchange student at Johns Hopkins during her time in medical school.

She says many of her fellow students applied to more than 10 or even 20 different programs.

'It’s a very competitive process. Being an international medical school graduate you … have less chances to be accepted because the priority would be for the U.S. graduates. Having said that, it’s not impossible. All that you need to do is, basically, early planning...'

Planning is highly important for foreign students seeking admission to U.S. medical schools. Paul White is the director for medical school admissions at Johns Hopkins. He says some schools do accept students with undergraduate degrees from their home countries. But most, he says, require U.S. study.

'So we say we want to see at least one year of additional coursework in any area in the U.S. just so we can see the kinds of courses they are capable of taking and how well they may perform in those courses. And there’s no question that if they do well in the U.S., and they do well on the medical college’s admissions test, then they’ll be eligible for admission...'

India native Karum Arora is in his fourth year of medical school at Johns Hopkins. He studies eye diseases. He also completed his undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins, as well as a two-year research program in his field.

Arora says the professors he knew in his earlier studies helped him gain acceptance to the medical school.

'I can’t even express in words how great my mentors were during those two years. And they were at Hopkins as well, and they both supported me when I applied for med school, guided me through medical school, worked on projects … and are supporting me now as I apply for residency as well.'

School administrators suggest international students should apply to residency programs in the U.S. after completing medical school at home. Or they should begin their American medical education at the undergraduate level. But, officials say, even candidates with the strongest history of study will face fierce competition.

I’m Pete Musto.

Linda Ringe reported on this story for VOA News. Pete Musto adapted her report for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How difficult is the process to become a doctor in your country? How common is it for medical students from your country to study in the U.S.? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

specificadj. special or particular

fascinate(d) – v. to cause someone to be very interested in something or someone

appliedv. to ask formally for something, such as a job, admission to a school, or a loan, usually in writing

priorityn. the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first

eligibleadj. able to be chosen for something

mentor(s) – n. someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person

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