Good morning everyone! Lately, I have been getting a LOT of questions from prospective/incoming students at St. James School of Medicine (SJSM) – St. Vincent campus. I love being able to help everyone! I was in the same position once before, and I was constantly asking questions and messaging current students. The only way to really get a feel for something is to talk to someone who is currently in the situation you’re interested in. I created this blog post to answer everyone’s questions in one document – please let me know if you have a question that I did not cover – and I will edit the post and address your concern!
Do you need a science background to apply to SJSM? Let me state that a science background will definitely give you an advantage in the coursework here – for the fact that you will have had exposure to these kinds of classes before. Take a look at the basic sciences courseload here. As you can see, you’ll be taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pathology, microbiology… The foundations of medicine. Having taken these classes previously will definitely benefit you. However – I do know students in my class who do not have the traditional science background and are doing very well in the courses. It all depends on how dedicated you are, and how hard you are willing to work to get your MD degree. Do not let your background defer you from applying if you really are interested in medicine! You may be behind the others as far as background knowledge – however, if you’re willing to work hard and study the material, there is no reason why you cannot succeed and pass the courses! There are tutors for every class, as well as lots of upperclassmen with helpful resources. Not to mention the professors who are always there to help!
Why does SJSM not require the MCAT? Is it still a credible school? This is also another concerning factor in applying for medical schools. Any international school you are interested in may not necessarily require the MCAT. This is because different schools in different countries may require their own set of exams or criteria in order to apply. In the end, we are all getting the MD degree. I am planning on practicing medicine in the US, so one thing I liked about SJSM was that they offer clinical rotations in the US. If you’re planning on practicing in the US, it’s recommended to do your rotations in the US so you can gain exposure and network with other students and physicians to benefit you later on for residency. Take a look further down at my post on residency for further questions about that, and check out the accreditation of the school here (further explained in another question below). This quote below is taken from the SJSM website regarding their views on the MCAT (source). Just because a school does not have a certain requirement does not mean it is sub-par. Once again as stated before, do your research on any school you’re interested in and check out their accreditations.
“We do not require the MCAT. When we evaluate your application to Saint James School of Medicine we consider a number of factors; including your undergraduate GPA, your volunteer and/or work experience, your letters of recommendation, your personal essay, your interview and your motivations for studying medicine. We take a broad overview of our potential medical students’ abilities and motivations. This enables us to accurately determine those likely to succeed in medicine”.
Does anyone ever match for residency from SJSM? This is another common question. Also one of my biggest questions. Here is the most recent match list for residency in 2016. Here is the match list for 2015. DISCLAIMER: One thing I have to mention to people. Just because you apply to a US school does not guarantee that you are going to get matched for residency. Same goes for international students, or wherever you are applying for medical school. People often feel that just because you’re an international student means you’re sub-par and won’t match for residency, and if you’re in a US school, you’re guaranteed a spot. That is not true! According to those links above, SJSM has had students match for residency within the last two years, under many different specialties. Hard work, dedication, and persistence will get you the residency that you want. No matter where you are going to school! The school’s job is to provide the information for you to become the best possible physician. It is YOUR job to take that information and know it inside AND out. Adapt it to your future practices as a physician and work hard for what you want.
What about the credibility of an international school? How will you practice in the US after you graduate? This is probably the most concerning thing. This was my biggest issue before I applied and accepted the spot. For this – all I can tell you is to DO RESEARCH. Check out my blog for Merck Manuals on Considering an International Medical School for more information! As far as credibility from the school – one thing I really liked was how the clinical rotations were held in the US. Take a look at the clinical sciences program with SJSM (where they are affiliated, what rotations you’ll take, etc). Here is the list of accreditations for the school as well! As long as you score well on your STEP exams and match for residency, there should be no issues for practicing medicine in the US. Some states, however, require certain things of international graduates – do research on state requirements for international physicians if this concerns you – but for the most part, I know many successful international physicians who are practicing all over the US with no issues.
For my Canadian readers, click here.
How was the application/interview process with SJSM? The application process itself was incredibly easy. I had to fill out a simple form, and then send all my transcripts to the headquarters in Chicago, IL. NOTE: if you have studied abroad, they also want that transcript from the organization/school where you studied at. That took the longest time for me, getting my transcript from the university in Costa Rica, so get to work on that if it’s applicable to you. After application, I heard from an admissions adviser who was extremely helpful in answering all the questions I had regarding the school. Within a few weeks, I was offered an interview. The interview was very straight-forward and asked questions such as educational background, medical experience, why I wanted to go to medical school, if I had applied elsewhere, and some other basic questions pertaining to my life experiences. It lasted about one hour and it was conducted via telephone, which was nice. I recommend going somewhere quiet and having a fully charged phone for the interview! I went to a local park and sat in my car so I was free from distractions. Again, within a few weeks I heard that I was accepted, and they gave me 5 days to accept and make a decision and send a deposit to reserve my spot. I had no issues with this and everything worked out smoothly because I already knew I wanted to go.
How was your transition between undergraduate studies and medical school? I am thankful to say I had a fairly easy transition. I was blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in Spring 2014 in Costa Rica for a semester, so I had previous exposure with living abroad, experiencing a new culture, and living in a foreign country. Once I graduated, I took a semester off to relax, work, and apply to schools. I was torn between medical school and graduate school at this time because I was interested in public health as well (my undergrad degree is in Spanish and International Health). My ultimate dream had always been medical school (since I was a child), but I wanted to explore other options with my degree. Come to find out, I did not get accepted into the graduate program, but I did get accepted into medical school. So that was just another sign that I needed to take the opportunity in front of me and follow my dreams! Once again, I had full support of family and friends, so it was great to know that I was supported and had encouragement from the people who meant most to me. That made the transition a lot easier. As far as the content between undergrad and medical school – medical school is MUCH HARDER! But that is to be expected. Medical school is not easy, not for everyone, and definitely not for someone who is “just in it for the money”. It takes hard work and persistence to keep up with these classes and succeed in them!
Have you taken the USMLE Step 1 yet? Currently, as I write/edit this post, I am in my fourth semester of basic sciences(MD4), so I have not taken the Step 1 yet. I have one more semester, Advanced Introduction to Clinical Medicine (AICM), which will get me started on preparing for the Step 1. I recently just bought a question bank to help me start preparing. This is recommended around your third/fourth semester, just to gain exposure to the USMLE-format questions, as well as learning to integrate your knowledge from courses. There are also sites online where you can obtain MCQ-type questions if you’re unable to get a question bank subscription right away. If all goes according to planned – I will take the Step 1 sometime between August-November 2017. Step 1 is taken after the basic sciences portion at SJSM, and before you start core rotations.
AS A CURRENT STUDENT
What is the school schedule like? For those who don’t know, SJSM has an accelerated basic sciences program (see link above). The course times differ per semester. For the first semester (MD1), we were in class from 8am-5pm every day. Second semester (MD2), we were in classes 8-5 two days a week, and in classes 8-3 three days a week. MD3 is the same as MD1 as far as class hours. MD4 is 8-3 every day. Not sure about the new MD5 semester that they are incorporating on the island (ICM) and the hours for that, since I will be doing my MD5 semester in Chicago to prepare for the Step 1. Here are the details for the MD5 semester in Chicago. They recently implemented a change for MD5 to be held on the island, instead of in Chicago, so this will be different for anyone new coming to SJSM from here on out. The first MD5 semester on the island will begin in September 2017 and onward. The MD5 semester is more of a big review of everything you’ve learned in MD1-MD4, and ties it together so you’re able to get ready to take the Step 1. This may sound like a displeasing option by staying on the island longer for ICM – however there are a lot of benefits. IT IS CHEAPER TO LIVE ON THE ISLAND! That means in my situation, I have to find a lease for only 4 months in Chicago, then go back home to study. I am still figuring that out, though. There are a lot less distractions on the island. Do your research on ICM if you have more questions, or feel free to let me know.
Do you feel that the required support at SJSM is available to succeed in medical school? I get this question a LOT. No surprise! One thing I have learned in medical school is that support is absolutely necessary in order to succeed. If it wasn’t for the support of my family, best friends, and fellow classmates/faculty, there’s no way I’d be where I am today. Personally – I feel the professors and faculty are very approachable and are more than willing to make time to sit down with you to help you succeed. While taking biochemistry in my second semester (my worst class as far as performance thus far), I had SUCH a hard time grasping the material. Several times I met with the professors and sent many emails asking questions. They were more than willing to give me advice and refer me to tutors and other resources to help me succeed. If it wasn’t for my hard work and their assistance, I would have not passed the class! Don’t ever be ashamed to ask for help. Why would you waste your time struggling in silence? They are here to present the material, and if you don’t understand – they want to know and they want to help make it easier for everyone. No professor is perfect and some have their flaws – but overall I am an independent studier and as long as you present the material to me, I can usually sort through it on my own – I prefer to do that anyways.
What materials do you need to bring for your first semester? I know there is a list out there somewhere with supplies necessary for the first semester (scrubs, disposable latex gloves, face masks, shoe covers (for anatomy lab), required textbooks, etc.) As far as the materials for anatomy lab – YES you absolutely need those. Bring a pair of close-toe shoes as well. As far as the other materials (blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, etc.) it does not hurt to have those on hand because sometimes club organizations will hold workshops where you learn how to use these items, or you can use them at a local health fair that the school hosts occasionally. You will need the BP cuff and stethoscope for sure in your fourth semester with the physical diagnostics lab course. As far as textbooks and materials, find an upperclassmen who is willing to share their PDF files with you. I haven’t bought a single textbook in the three semesters since I’ve started because EVERYone has all the textbooks you need on PDF.
Do you use financial aid for school? I am currently using a payment plan, which takes a small portion of money from my bank account every month to pay for school. This is an option that you’d need to set up with a financial adviser through the school. The phone number for the headquarters in Chicago is 1-800-542-1553. As far as other financial aid options, check this out.
Another option is to talk to your bank and see if they have any personal loans that are available for you to take out and help for tuition payments. Many current SJSM students are also doing an online masters program with Walden University. There are programs that pertain to Public Health, Health Administration, etc. that can benefit you as a future physician. Walden will also ship you the textbooks to SJSM for free every semester for the class you are taking. The good thing about doing an online program through Walden Univ. is that you get a loan every semester that you are able to spend on anything you need it for. MANY students use this to help pay for tuition at SJSM.
What about airlines, housing, and island life? Check out this post to see what I have to say about these topics!
Can you bring pets to the island? Check out these pet regulations.
Final words of wisdom for the prospective medical student? One of my biggest pieces of advice is to do your research. Check out the school’s website that you’re interested in (SJSM website link here). Talk to current students and hear about their experiences and do not be afraid to ask questions. One thing I advise is also to attend an open house with SJSM if you’re really considering attending. This is what sealed the deal for me! There are representatives there who will answer any and all questions you may have. I attended the open house in Atlanta, GA back in May 2015, and was fortunate to meet two other accepted students who were also starting in Fall 2015, just like me. One of them became my boyfriend, and the other one became one of my best friends! 🙂 SJSM has locations all over the US and Canada for open houses and they are pretty frequent, so be sure to attend one if the chance presents itself! They are free to attend and are VERY informative.
If you have already been accepted and are starting in an upcoming semester, I know the school does a ‘buddy program’ where they assign you an upperclassmen who helps you with the transition. Feel free to take advantage of this and ask them lots of questions, because we are all willing to help. I am also a good resource if anyone ever needs anything. Many students exchange PDF copies of the textbooks for classes, which makes it a lot easier so you don’t have to bring hard copies to the island every semester. There are hard copies of every textbook for classes in the library if you prefer one.
I hope I covered most of the bases in this post. Please send me a message or comment below if I have a point or topic you’d like me to discuss! I’m here to help and give as much experience info as I can. Check out my other blog postings for more island information: One Month on the Island, Back Into The Routine, New Jobs, Big Cities, and Best Friends, and many more! Best wishes to all, and I hope I’ve helped someone!