Dr. Todd Curtis didn’t know much of anything about the medical school set along turquoise waters that he’d one day attend. As a University of Washington graduate who grew up along the Kent-Covington border, he initially applied to West Coast programs, including his alma mater. None accepted him. Then someone he respected recommended an alternative route: St. George’s University in Grenada. After some googling, he was sold that the school’s licensure rates and other numbers stacked up well enough against U.S. peers. Nothing during his four years dissuaded him. The training propelled him toward his dream job. “I felt very well-prepared moving into my residency program,” says Curtis, now a family medicine physician at Valley Medical Center in Covington.
International medical schools tend to get dragged—a lot—for high acceptance rates and low residency placements. This summer, The New York Times advanced that notion with a piece chronicling students’ struggles landing residency matches.
But with medical school apps at U.S. institutions soaring, it’s also tough to get in anywhere—the first concern of wannabe MDs. And international medical schools are hardly an uncommon workaround for students bent on seizing an opportunity: St. George’s could claim more licensed U.S. physicians in 2018 than any other medical school, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards.
At the Caribbean school, 94 percent of students passed Step 1 of the United States Medical License Examination on their first go-round in 2020, just four points below the rate for future MDs at all U.S. and Canadian schools. Still, Curtis stresses that checking performance stats is vital; a handful of international schools clearly stood out from the rest during his search.
He didn’t have any trouble matching with his first residency choice at St. Peter Family Medicine in Olympia. But international school students do often face barriers to residency—only 54.8 percent of them matched in 2021, compared to 92.8 percent of MDs from U.S. institutions. As in the States, those numbers vary widely among overseas schools. They can also accompany a better itinerary. Curtis studied and trained everywhere from Newcastle, England, to Bakersfield, California, gaining knowledge of different health systems and cultures he could then apply to practicing in his backyard. Others in areas with physician shortages, Curtis notes, can reap the same benefit from an international experience. “It can help open that door.”