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Why are so many American students heading overseas for medical school?

Accreditation and Licensing of Overseas Medical Schools

At overseas medical school, you'll earn a prestigious diploma in a thrilling destination, and you may not even have to ace the MCAT. But what happens when you attempt to practice in the United States after graduating from an overseas medical school? This is where it can get tricky, so you'll need to do your due diligence before you decide which school you'll attend. Otherwise, you could end up like 54-year-old Steven Moxley. This veteran ended up living with his adult son and doing construction work because he couldn't land a residency, although he claims he was assured one when he enrolled in a Caribbean medical school [source: Hundley].

Take some precautions before applying to overseas medical schools. Find out if the school you're considering is licensed. Some are treated the same as U.S. schools, while others aren't recognized by residency programs and licensing boards in the United States. This ultimately determines whether or not you'll get to practice medicine.

Get familiar with the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, or ECFMG, the organization charged with ensuring that physicians who have graduated from foreign medical schools are qualified to pursue a medical license in the United States [source: ECFMG]. You must be certified by the ECFMG before you can even apply to take the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). This certification also permits you to enter a residency program that's accredited by the American College of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), which we'll learn about shortly.

To be eligible to apply for ECFMG certification, your school must be listed in the International Medical Education Directory (IMED) [source: ECFMG]. What's more, your graduation year must also be listed in the IMED database. If you graduate in a year that your medical school wasn't accredited by IMED, you can't apply for ECFMG certification. Essentially, this means you're barred from practicing medicine in the United States based on the diploma you hold from an unaccredited medical school.

On the next page, we'll delve into the specifics of getting a residency.