One of the biggest Canadian medical schools isn’t even in Canada!
St. Georges University, in True Blue Bay, Grenada, has over 4,000 students enrolled in their four year medical school program. Almost 18% are Canadian, so you do the math. This would give over 150 Canadian graduates yearly, on par with Canada’s biggest medical schools.
I had a chance to tour St. Georges University this past November. Sprawled over a point of land with choice views of the Caribbean Sea and Grenada’s volcanic mountains it would have made a great spot for a hotel. Indeed the University Club is in reality a private resort with gourmet dining, a large pool and seaside locale that few, if any, universities could equal. This may be the reason that so many prominent Canadian clinicians are happy to come down every year to give a few lectures for a small honorarium, but a major break away from the Canadian winter. They nicely complement the permanent university staff with constant stream of fresh scientific and clinical perspectives.
St. Georges U. has a lot more to offer than just pretty views. Only the first two years of medical school are spent in Grenada, with a rigorous academic program encompassing basic sciences, sophisticated patient simulators, hands on anatomy courses and case presentations. Third and fourth year are mainly clinically based and are taken in various U.S. centers. Grenada’s population of just over one hundred thousand gives an approximate ratio of 25 Grenadians for every medical student. While this has major benefits for the local economy it doesn’t provide many patients on whom to learn.
During my visit I spoke to two Canadian students, Noreen Choe of Toronto and Kevin Lee of Vancouver, who are co-presidents of CANSA, the Canadian Students Association at SGU. Both, despite excellent credentials, failed to obtain places in Canadian institutions. Armed with a burning desire to follow a medical career, Noreen in family practice and Kevin as an FP or internist, both chose to pursue their education offshore.
Medical school can be daunting enough in Canada but even more so for these students. Despite the expense, time commitment and emotional and intellectual demands, students in Canadian schools are fairly certain of being placed in residencies. Not so graduates of offshore schools, say Noreen and Kevin, who must do additional testing and who are given absolutely no preference over foreign nationals in obtaining residencies in Canada.
Electives in Canada are seen to be a key in obtaining placement here, but even these are also scarce.
With Canada’s shortage of physicians, triggered at least in part by the implementation of the Barer-Stoddard reports recommendations to cut medical school enrollments in the early 90′s, it would seem that a valuable stream of medically educated Canadians is just waiting to be tapped. Though it makes sense that the competency of anyone not trained in an accredited Canadian medical school needs to be verified, it would seem that opening up electives and clinical opportunities for these graduates to prove themselves would help solve some of our supply problem, and with our own citizens who are more acculturated to caring for Canadians and more likely to stay in the country.
In the meantime many Canadians end up doing their residences and staying in the United States, a disservice to not only Canadian students but to Canadian patients who can’t obtain timely medical care.
SGU also has a veterinary school and many other programs serving both local and foreign students. A relatively new school, founded in 1976, it has a rather more exciting history than most when revolution hit Grenada in 1983. After Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was executed by Cuban backed insurgents the United States and a joint Caribbean force was sent in to secure the safety of 800 American students at SGU. Nineteen were killed and a memorial stands on the campus, dedicated by then president Ronald Reagan, to their memory.
Life at SGU now seems pretty tranquil as I write this article sitting on the veranda of the University Club’s restaurant, the Green Flash. The evanescent “green flash” is a brief flare of green that occurs only rarely at sunset. It is reputed to occur here with greater frequency than almost anywhere else. Since I’m red-green color deficient I might not be able to see it, but I’ll order another rum punch and watch for it, anyway…
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All Photos By George Burden, All Rights Reserved