Tips for high school Indian aspirants who want to practice medicine in the USA and Canada

To practise in the USA, or in the U.K. and Canada, a student needs to go through elaborate and rigorous testing systems and processes.

From a 4-year pre-medical bachelor’s programme to residency, the process would take anything from 10 years to 15 years.
From a 4-year pre-medical bachelor’s programme to residency, the process would take anything from 10 years to 15 years.

By Mamta Purbey

The medical eco-system in any country is one of the crucial indicators of effective administration and hence, every country has its own regulations and guidelines that ensure that only doctors with the stipulated qualifications, skills and quality can practice in the country.

Today, thanks to the globalization of health and medicine, a growing number of students from India are aspiring to be practicing doctors in countries like the USA, the UK, and Canada. The increasing number of students from India who are writing the USMLE exam is an indicator that the demand to be a practicing doctor in the USA is steadily rising in India. There has been a three-fold growth in the number of applicants between 2020 and 2022. This is only expected to grow as the 2022 intake is still in progress. With the number of queries from students in grades 10th and 11th increasing by the day, it would be in the fitness of things to believe that the demand for a medical education that shall empower and enable the students to become a practising doctor in the U.S. and Canada will only rise in the coming years.

However, to practise in the USA, or in the U.K. and Canada, a student needs to go through elaborate and rigorous testing systems and processes. This is true irrespective of whether the student is a US citizen or not. From a four-year pre-medical bachelor’s programme to residency, the process would take anything from 10 years to 15 years only after which one can practice medicine in the US. So let’s take a look at the steps one has to cross to become a practicing doctor in the USA.

Students need to first complete their four-year undergraduate programme post their 12th grade or high school. This stage is called pre-medical and usually, students can do this four-year programme in any discipline of choice. Students need to complete this UG degree and clear the MCAT exam before they join a medical school. The MCAT is a multiple-choice examination that students must pass before they can hope to a medical school. Physical science, biology, critical thinking, and verbal skills are all tried in a computerised test. This test plays an important role in the selection of a medical school in the USA and Canada.

Once a student enters a medical school, they spend another four to five years in that institution, which would include their pre-clinical and clinical. Once students are done with clinical rotations and graduates from medical school, they apply for residency. Students submit applications through the National Residency Matching Programme (NRMP). During residency placement, the doctors learn the practice of medicine under the supervision and tutelage of a fully licensed doctor (commonly known as an Attending Physician). Depending on the specialisation they opt for, many doctors complete their residency programmes in three years to seven years.

Alternately, for high school graduates to become a doctor in the US or Canada, they could also take the Caribbean medical college route where they can choose a reputed and recognized medical school in the Caribbean and do their two-year pre-med programme, study two years of pre-clinical and then pursue their clinical in the USA or Canada. Some prominent medical schools in the Caribbean include USMLE training in the curriculum, and a separate semester is dedicated to the same. In this route, the students undergo a two-year pre-med programme before they enrol in a medical school. This saves students two years and hence, they can complete their pre-med to MD programme, including clinical rotations, in about six and a half years.

However, when choosing a medical school in the Caribbean, it’s very important to check the recognitions and accreditations. Only schools that are recognised by CAAM-HP and accredited by the US Dept of Education, New York State Education Department, and other US and Canadian medical education-related departments should be chosen to ensure a smooth transition into the USA or Canada.

Overall, a student spends about seven to 12 years after the completion of the undergraduate (premedical) degree to finally become a practicing doctor in the USA if he or she can successfully clear every step without any delays. The process to be a practicing doctor in Canada is quite similar to that of the USA. One of the differences is that the graduates go through CaRMS instead of NRMP.

Some of the top career paths for doctors in the USA include disciplines such as Internal Medicine, Family Practice, Psychiatry, Paediatrics, Gynaecology, Anaesthesiology, and Surgery. As per the Bureau of Labour Statistics, a doctor is among the highest-paying professions in the USA. The bureau also reports that doctors account for 45% of the 20 highest-paying jobs in the country. Average salaries easily surpass six figures, with some surgeons and physicians being able to command annual salaries over $400,000. However, it is equally challenging and requires patience and determination.

While the emotional and financial rewards of being a doctor are exceptional, a student needs to be prepared for a long and sustained journey of about 10-15 years to be a practising doctor in the U.S. and Canada. This is right from pre-med to the completion of residency and full licensure. This would mean students should need a strong academic and emotional focus along with an optimistic and a positive frame of mind.

The author of this article is executive director, Manipal’s American University of Antigua. Views expressed are personal.

Also Read: UGC new draft norms: UG ‘honours’ degree only after completing 4 years and not three

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First published on: 11-12-2022 at 10:08 IST
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