The following post is written by my friend Jiayi Hu, a classmate of mine from medical school. He obtained his BHSc and MD from the University of Toronto (2009 and 2013, respectively). He is currently a Plastic Surgery resident at McMaster University and very passionate about education and career mentorship. You can learn more about him here.
A very common question I get from students and their parents is “I (or my child) is graduating from Grade 12 this year and really want/s to be a doctor. Should I (or he/she) stay in Canada for undergraduate studies before applying to medical school here? Or should he/she apply for Australian/UK medical schools now?”
The answer is somewhat simple: it all depends on if you intend to return to Canada to practice medicine.
The obvious benefits of attending an international school after Grade 12 are the shorter time of duration to obtain a medical degree (6 years, in comparison to the usual 8 years in Canada) and a relatively less competitive (and therefore, less stressful) application process. Despite the high tuition fees ($50,000-$60,000 CDN equivalent/year), those international schools are a popular choice among those with financial means. In comparison, a Canadian medical school costs $20,000/year to attend.
Ok. You got your medical degree. You are a doctor. But, are you really a doctor?
Medical graduates must obtain post-graduate training (or residency) before being granted medical licenses to practice independently. If you intend to practice abroad, then it is great that you attended medical school exactly where you wanted to practice.
However, if you wish to return to Canada, then it is not so simple.
Statistics have shown that roughly 2000 International Medical Graduates (IMG) apply for usually less than 200 residency spots in Canada per year (that’s less than a 10% success rate). In comparison, a Canadian Medical Graduate (CMG) has a success rate of 90% of matching to a residency spot.
In my opinion, applying for residency is much more stressful than applying to medical school. Being an IMG, sometimes you have to compromise and you may not match to an ideal location or specialty, subjectively speaking, for personal reasons, or that of academic interests. But imagine not being able to obtain a residency spot after you and your family have invested so much time and money in the process? That’s not a situation that anyone wants to get into.
If you plan to stay in Australia or the UK after medical school, then good for you! I have lived in both amazing countries and I may consider obtaining further training in either places. The residency training is usually 3-7 years after medical school depending on the specialty (compared to 2-5 years in Canada) with a slightly higher salary. In the grand scheme of things, it takes roughly the same amount of time to become a practicing physician after graduating from high school whether you are in Canada or abroad. That said, I believe having a post-secondary education before starting medical school (e.g. the path you must take in Canada) will make you a more mature and skillful candidate during medical school when interacting with patients and colleagues.
Does money matter?
Cost of medical school and compensation as a resident and/or physician are some factors to consider. My only advice is that, in the grand scheme of things, your debt should be paid off after your first year into practice. Your pay will be commensurate for the value you provide (most of the time), and it will be able to sustain a lifestyle that you are content with (or your lifestyle will adjust based on your pay). In any case, medicine is for those that are passionate to make a difference in others’ lives, and are not so concerned about differences in compensation compared to international colleagues.
For those of you considering studying abroad, I hope that was helpful. I will share my thoughts later on “what to do I do if I didn’t get into medical school after undergrad?”