Episode 17: Preparing for Med School in the Caribbean


Preparing for medical school in the Caribbean is an exciting moment in the accepted students’ lives. It can also be a bit nerve-racking. Dr. Kimberly Brown, emergency physician, public health professional, blogger and best-selling author shares some tips on how to prepare ahead of time.

Episode 17: Preparing for Med School in the Caribbean Transcript

Milena Garcia: Well, welcome back future Rossies, thanks for joining us once again. This time we have Dr. Kimberly Brown joining us. Dr. Brown, thank you so much for joining us, please. Let's take a moment to have you introduce yourself to our audience.

Kimberly Brown: Well, thanks so much for asking me to join. I'm really excited. So, as you said, my name is Dr. Kimberly brown. I am an emergency physician and currently I'm living in Memphis, Tennessee. I graduated from Ross in 2014 and I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee health science centers Emergency Medicine Program, which I finished in 2018

Milena Garcia: How did Caribbean medical school become an option for you?

Kimberly Brown: I always laugh at this point because it was kind of a last option that happened to work out for me and I will say that. So I was just like any other U.S. medical student and pre med,you know, taking all my classes, did well in my classes, but the MCAT,  I took it three times. I didn't do well. That was when it was still a two digit score. And so I was continuing to try to apply to U.S. schools, but I was getting rejected. At that time I had gone to the University of Florida to complete my Master's of public health and that was in my second year when I had a sit down conversation with one of my really good friends in my program.

He was an attorney and he asked me, Why hadn't I applied to a Caribbean school. And I'm like “You know, honestly, I don't really want to because of all of the negative rumors that I had heard about Caribbean schools.” And so he told me that he had several friends who were now attending physicians who had gone the Caribbean route, either to Ross or  AUC or to SGU and they were all doing just fine. They were in residency, or had finished residency and they were doing just fine.

So he said, “Kim. Hey, if you really want to be a doctor, you should at least take a better look at this option.” So I did. And at that time I also had a couple of friends from undergrad that were also at Ross. I reached out to them and kind of asked them all of the nitty gritty questions about you know what the island was like, the classes. They gave me nothing but rave reviews. Now, they said they were hard. Of course, it's still medical school at the end of the day, um, but they really gave me a lot of comfort in possibly moving to another country, and of course they were still going to be there if I were to get accepted as well. So I went ahead, took the plunge, applied and January 2011 I was flying to Dominica.

Milena Garcia: Who better than the current students, to tell you the realities of the program, right? I always encourage people to reach out to our current students or recent grads to talk about the program. What was it about Ross University School of Medicine in particular that appealed to you?

Kimberly Brown: Um, I actually liked at the time that the curriculum was a little bit accelerated so that I could finish a little bit early. Now when I was on the island that was not an option. I would say that it was just everybody does four semesters. That's the curriculum that we're doing. But back then, I was looking at it more as an advantage that I will be possibly done potentially early.  I was starting in a winter semester and I was hoping to match for the 2014 year to start residency and I didn't. I was just short by a couple of months, but it ended up doing just fine in the long term.

And so I really liked that about Ross, I really liked, of course, like you said, it's nothing better than knowing a current, current student. Having a little bit of a security blanket, like, oh, “I know John, John's got me under control, Nikki, she's good. You know, she knows me and will tell me the truth about everything.” I didn't feel as alone because as an only child, and someone that is literally moving their entire life across the ocean to another place. I didn't want to do that by myself. So to have them there really helped me out mentally like I'm just not gonna plan to myself into the ocean of nothingness. 

RUSM Academic and Personal Support

Milena Garcia: What kind of academic and or personal support did you receive and value at Ross?

Kimberly Brown: I received a lot, and I think that's another thing that really makes us stand out amongst other schools. So to be very transparent. I almost failed out my first semester. 50% probably wasn't a great score. 60 some odd percent wasn't a great score. And so I had never seen my test scores be that low. I mean, I'm a typical pre med student that's always done well, even in grad school. I did well. And so this was kind of the first main med school roadblock, like, okay there's something that you're doing wrong. And I freaked out. I mean, just like I said before, I'm the only child. I or my mother's only child, and I'm going across to another country to study medicine and everybody knows what I'm doing. I could not come back to the State saying “Oh I failed out of my first semester. So I had a breakdown. I cried a lot. But then I reached out to academic success, which you told me now is called  The Academy for Teaching and Learning. 

Milena Garcia: Correct. So the ACL, which we’ve done an episode on so everybody who's listening, please check back the ATL episode so you know what it is that we're talking about.

Kimberly Brown: It helped me tremendously. I sent an email, I made an appointment. I had an appointment with a counselor and I sat down in front of her, and I cried. I said, “Look, I failed two exams and I don't know what I'm doing. Apparently, I don't know what I'm doing. Whatever you got for me. I need some help.” She calmed me down after she let me cry. And she's like, “This is what we're going to do. We're going to get on the schedule, you're going to come to some tutoring sessions, you're going to start doing some questions sessions,” and she told me flat out, “Kim. You can't keep studying and having Facebook on and having the TV on and on Skype and you've got to really learn how to buckle down and focus.”

And that's something that I had never had to do. And so with her encouragement and her really helping me with my schedule and finding some great tutoring sessions I almost aced the next exam. I think it was the Anatomy and the BioChem that got me on that. I'm on the second test, but that's what happened. And ever since I have done well. So, Ross has really supported me academically, because it taught me really how to learn for medical school because it's a different type of learning. It's a different type of volume that most people have never been exposed to unless you're in like a super serious like math or science field.  It's a lot of information and a lot of time, but Ross has surrounded me with academic tutors, anatomy tutors, emotional support, all of those things.

Preparing for Your Trip to RUSM

Milena Garcia: And for everyone listening. Dr. Brown literally wrote the book on attending school in the Caribbean. Her book is called Still MD! Two Physicians' Advice for International Medical Students and Graduates. Dr. Brown, how do you suggest the students prepare for this trip? 

Kimberly Brown: So there's a lot of things that are going to go into you even getting to the island of Barbados. Ross will do the vast majority of helping you with the pieces packing list, things like that. Of course, you can easily book a flight to Barbados on almost any major airline. So all those logistics are pretty easy. What I think people don't talk about enough is the emotional support and I say that because, you know, the year I was about to start Ross, in 2010, I was having a really tough year and so to add on moving to a whole other country to study medicine was like a whole other layer to the cake. And so having emotional support, I think is the biggest thing because you are going to be away from home, away from your comfort, away from family, friends, sometimes these common luxuries that you would have while you were at home.

So really having an emotional support and an emotional plan to really work through things  as a student will be really helpful. So if you have friends at home, family, sorority sisters, anybody that you constantly are in contact with, make a plan to keep in contact with them at least regularly. Now, you're not going to be able to text them all day long, or, you know, Skype until five o'clock in the morning, every day. But if you put in your schedule some time that you're going to touch base with your mom or dad or your best friends or your college friends, etc. That really helps with the support because it's a long semester and things can go by a little bit quick, but still, that's time away from people and you never know what's going to come up, especially if you’re first starting Ross, starting any medical school, actually.

There's a lot that comes up and it's really stressful. So having a small outlet would be really, really important. Use it as a study break. I mean I would kind of build mine around dinner time. So it was go get something to eat from the shacks, which I know you guys don't have, and then go back to my room and go to back to my study area and then just have a quick call or Skype with someone and then get back to work or at the end of the night as well. When I was ready to go to bed. I would just check with somebody to go to sleep.

Milena Garcia: Now, Dr. Brown, you mentioned how the ATL really helped you recover from your first semester. What are some other tips that you can suggest to be successful in medical school, for everyone listening?

Kimberly Brown: Humility is the biggest thing I remember just being truly amazed at how much detail goes into the human body. I would always kind of just think in the back of my head was “medical school for years.” This is like, what is it about learning for years. This is too much time. But I think being humbled by one my almost failures and also to, just the actual amazement of what we're learning took me really far. And that's passed the island, that's passed basic sciences. When you get to your clinical, when you get to residency. You know, not always just thinking, you know, everything and just kind of staying humble and always remembering that you have something to learn, Will help you go far in life and not just medical school.

 I also would say, just to be honest and be honest with yourself with what you do know and what you don't know. And if you don't know something. And if someone's asking you, do not lie about it. So, I'm sorry, I just don't know. I didn't study that I did read that I didn't get that information. But go back out there and try to find it. Honesty is always the best policy, especially in medicine because as you will find out later in life, people's lives are literally on the line. So being the most transparent that you possibly can be with yourself, with your mentors, with your patients when it's appropriate, will go far as well. And don't forget any of your passions outside of medical school. If you like underwater basket weaving please continue to find new ways to do that. Because you're going to be stressed out, there's so much information to take in. You got to find other ways to channel your energy because you'll be sitting in classes for hours at a time and then you got to go study.

There's got to be little breaks, so making sure that you join something that you love will help you stay connected to yourself. Because it's really easy to just kind of get lost in the humdrum of medical school. Clinical trials and group sessions and all those things. And the last thing I would say is to embrace your weaknesses. Now, not everybody is going to be an anatomy rockstar because I sure was not but you may be really good at something else like social behavioral sciences, you may be an amazing interviewer with patients, you may have an extremely awesome bedside manner. You may do physical exam skills, really, really well. Or you may not. But even if you embrace your weaknesses, if you just work on improving them that will always make you a better clinician.  So don't be afraid to say, yeah, I really suck in biochemistry. I just can't remember the Krebs cycle for the 15 million time

That's fine. Just keep trying to work on it and realize, too, that you have amazing other qualities that will make you an amazing physician down the road. Anyway, nobody really cares about by okay

Milena Garcia: Hey, listen, I think it's a great analogy because if you think the Krebs cycle is hard now. It's four years of Krebs cycles daily. Dr. Brown, thank you so much for sharing all your experience with us. What about any last recommendations or suggestions for our future Rossies?

Kimberly Brown: You know, I think this year 2020 has taught me one thing and it's just do it and (not trying to infringe on Nike, but if Nike wants to pay me for that I'm happy. I love your workout apparel) but to just go for it and just do things.I think some of your listeners may be on the fence of considering applying to a Caribbean medical school and the worst that could happen is that you get rejected and you’d still be in the same position that you are in right now. But what happens if you take that opportunity and you apply and you interview and you get in. What doors are open to you then? That is something I've really truly tried to embrace this year. I think Ross has taught me that lesson multiple times. I just went ahead and I just took the plunge and I said, boom. I'm just gonna submit my application. What's the worst that can happen? A few years later, here I am, sitting as an attending. Go out there and just, just take the plunge you guys. It's worth it. It's a wild ride, but it's totally worth it.

Milena Garcia: And the worst case scenario that you presented. I will tell you, being one of the interviewers at Ross, for the applicants who make it through the interview cycle and get denied. We do a follow up counseling session. And let them know what it was that held the application back. So it's not a closed door for us. It really just means not right now, here's what you need to prove fix this call me back. It might just be retaking the MCAT. It might be just taking that biochemistry class once again, or it could be a post back program. It really depends on how much needs to be fixed on the application. But the point is, they will get that feedback from the interviewer.

Kimberly Brown: I was gonna say, I don't know if a lot of other medical schools that will do that. So that is really valuable advice for someone who applied and never got an interview, except from Ross. If something, God forbid, had happened to me and I got to the interview and I didn't get the acceptance, that is invaluable information that you could always use to improve yourself and make yourself better.

Milena Garcia: That's awesome. I'm glad Ross does that after all. Well, thank you again for joining us. I appreciate it. Everyone, Dr. Kimberly Brown is the author again her book is called Still MD! Two Physicians' Advice for International Medical Students and Graduates, out now. We will be giving away 10 copies of Dr. Brown's books to our listeners, you would have to do three things for me. You have to go on our website and insert three questions please email me the questions directly

Number One question is, what is our residency match rate for this past year. So the latest residency match rate for Ross University.

Question number two. How many curriculum tracks does Ross have? You heard Dr. Brown comment on the track that she chose. How many tracks does Ross have overall?  And the third question: Why would you choose Ross.

 That's it, email me at MGarcia@Rossu.edu and the first 10 people who email me their answers will get a copy of Dr. Brown's book. Thank you so much, Dr. Brown. I appreciate it.

Kimberly Brown: Thank you. I had a great time.

Milena Garcia: Thank you.