Being a medical student is more than memorizing procedures and preparing for the next round of tests in medical studies. It is also about experiencing the culture and local history of the island you live on. That is why the Med School Minutes podcast recently sat down with Dr. Jose Ramirez, the Assistant Clinical Dean at Saint James School of Medicine (SJSM), a leading Caribbean medical school, and Dr. DeJuan Kinchelow, who is an SJSM graduate and a student counselor. Dr. Ramirez is a former Dean of Administration of the school’s Anguilla campus and has spent several years living on the island. Dr. Kinchelow, as a student of SJSM, lived in both SJSM locations, Anguilla and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and offered a unique perspective regarding life on the island as a student. Dr. Kinchelow matched for residency in 2022 in New York, and will be an Emergency Medicine resident.
Our goal is to shed some light on what it is like for medical students to spend their time living on the island while attending a medical school. This includes managing cultural change and acclimating to ways of life which you may not be exposed to on the mainland. Let’s dig into our top tips for studying, and living in the Caribbean as a medical student.
1 – Get Ready for Small Communities
Depending on what island you end up living on, you could experience a significant decrease in population. In 2011 the total population of Anguilla was roughly 15,000, and St. Vincent came in at close to 111,000 people. In Anguilla, this means that you can quickly get to know the majority of residents, government officials, and develop a feel for the community compared to the much busier lifestyle in St. Vincent, which is similar to a major city.
2 – Life Moves at a Slower Pace
In the U.S., you get used to instant gratification. When you are hungry, there are restaurants open and people happy to serve you because everything is based on efficiency and money. On the islands, people are not in such a rush. Things move a little slower, and residents may actually give you an attitude for just showing up to their business. You have to balance the demands of what you are trying to achieve with the culture of a slower pace of life.
3 – You May See Celebrities
The Caribbean is a significant tourist destination, and some islands have bans on paparazzi. This means islands like Anguilla are popular with celebrities. It is not uncommon to see well-known people like Adele, Lebron James, and Jimmy Fallon. They are able to have a somewhat “normal” vacation away from the stress of the public eye, on islands where people will leave you alone for the most part.
4 – Enjoy the Natural Wonders
Just because you are visiting the island as part of your medical studies, that does not mean you cannot enjoy some of the natural beauty it offers. Visiting spots in the Grenadines or getting an Airbnb near the Tobago caves allows you to experience the pure wonder of nature in places that are frequently untouched by over-tourism, like on the bigger islands.
5 – Take Advantage of Stock When it’s Available
Never forget you are on an island. That means everything that is not grown or produced in the city or area you are living in will have to be brought in by ship or plane. This can cause shortages of different items in stores at unpredictable times. If you are shopping one day, you may see something you value in abundance only to come back the next week, and it is completely gone. Be sure to purchase those rare items you treasure whenever you see them in stock.
6 – Be Prepared for a Different Infrastructure
Most homes are built using blocks and do not include the luxuries of central air like in the U.S. Instead, they rely on single units in windows. Infrastructure is not as reliable because of a lack of resources and the changes in extreme weather.
7 – Safety is a Concern
The islands may not be excessively dangerous, but it is always advised to travel in small groups and don’t make yourself a target. Never forget that you are a foreigner living in a different country, and that makes you unique and easy to identify as a potential mark.
8 – Costs Vary
The Caribbean is a collection of many islands, and not all of them have the same economic philosophy or backing. For example, Anguilla bases everything on the U.S. dollar. When you walk into a store or pickup gas for your car, the conversion is already done for you ahead of time. In St. Vincent, their prices focus more on the Eastern Caribbean dollar. This means the rent tends to be cheaper, and you will need to convert to U.S. currency whenever making a purchase.
9 – Public Transportation May Not Be Available
Smaller islands may not have the infrastructure for reliable public transportation. Many medical students end up researching what cars are for sale ahead of time and purchasing a small vehicle that will last long enough while they are studying. That purchase could range from $1,000 – $6,000, depending on the make and model of the car. Keep in mind that Caribbean driving rules may vary, with some islands requiring you to drive on the left side of the road instead of the right.
10 – Take Advantage of the Food
The Caribbean has a ton of amazing fresh ingredients and local culinary delights that can be served in high-end restaurants just as much as the corner store. Some food gets Americanized, but you can experience incredible meals influenced by French and Indian cuisine for a relatively low price. Be sure to try locations that are popular with island residents.
Check all of our Med School Minutes Podcast Episodes here.