Robert H. Coombs
An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 U.S. citizens are currently enrolled in about 140 foreign medical schools, the majority of whom (75-90%) attend approximately ten schools in Mexico or the Caribbean. Yet, surprisingly, very little is known about the foreign experience. What little printed information exists typically deals with the performance of foreign trained doctors after they return to the United States. My three-year search located only one account of what life is like while studying medicine in a foreign country. 1 This is in marked contrast to the extensive literature about professional socialization in U.S. medical schools. 2
To satisfy my own curiosity, I conducted lengthy tape-recorded interviews with two men (and one spouse) who had attended the same school in Latin America. One had just finished his second year, and the other, having completed all four years of foreign training, is now chief of a clinical service in a metropolitan hospital. Their experiences may or may not be typical of those trained at other schools. We won't know until other descriptions are published.
The case study that follows may be the first published account of the professional socialization experienced by medical students in a foreign land. To enhance readability, I have distilled and packaged verbatim commentary into a single account, the contents of which are both enlightening and provocative. 3
My hope is that, in reading this narrative others will be stimulated to contrast their experiences, and that systematic research will be undertaken. Then prospective candidates for foreign