Born and raised in Arizona, Carlos Rodríguez never imagined he would have to move to Mexico in order to reach his American dream of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon.
Rodriguez says he took the Medical College Admission Test after earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Arizona in 2016.
“Your probabilities are so low, so many people apply and not that many people get in,” said Rodríguez.
Rodríguez says he had a competitive MCAT score, a strong GPA, letters of recommendation, and volunteering experience from the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, but was turned away by many medical schools in the U.S.
“You feel that everything was for nothing, you feel that you worked so hard to accomplish something and it was pointless.”
He says he considered giving up his dream, until he learned of an opportunity to study in a private medical school in Tijuana, Mexico.
"I took the test and got accepted the next day. The process was liberating, I was expecting the same thing, going through interviews, and no, you get accepted because you scored high," he told us.
A contrasting process from the U.S., where medical schools are highly competitive.
According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2019, only 41 percent of applicants across the United States were accepted and enrolled in a medical school.
Rodriguez says the idea of moving to Mexico was not an easy decision, but it changed when he realized the tuition difference.
“In Mexico, in a top-notch private school, you're looking at $20,000 for your whole medical career," said Rodríguez.
As an Arizona resident, tuition would have been about $30,000 per year if attending the University of Arizona, instead, he pays about $200 a month without the need to apply for a student school loan.
Rodriguez says he will graduate with no student loan debt, unlike almost 80 percent of medical students graduating in the U.S. According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the median debt is about $200,000.
Thinking about Mexico as an option? There are some downsides.
“I had no idea about what they were talking about, and I have been speaking Spanish since I was a kid. It got easier the more I practiced, the more I learned it,” Rodriguez said. But he advocated that it's best you learn the language.
Classes are taught in Spanish and it won't prepare you for the for the United States Medical Licensing Examination, the U.S.M.L.E.
"You can start prepping for the U.S.M.L.E exams as soon as you complete your fourth semester in medical school in Mexico," said Dr. Eduardo Tanori, who leads the U.S.M.L.E-N.B.D.E. training program in San Diego.
He says it is an intensive course where students like Rodríguez spend weekends preparing for the big test.
“After they pass the U.S.M.L.E., they need to do three to five years of medical residency in U.S. hospitals,” said Tanori.
But would the healthcare quality be the same if a doctor graduated from a school outside the U.S.?
“After we pass the U.S.M.L.E. we have the same capabilities as any other U.S. graduate,” stated Tanori, who added international medical graduates could potentially solve the shortage of doctors in the U.S.
“Most U.S. physicians look to go to big cities to five-star hospitals when they graduate, meanwhile international medical students go where there's a need, to under-served communities in rural areas,” said Tanori.
Arizona is currently facing a critical shortage of primary care physicians -- about a quarter of rural Arizona PCPs are expected to retire in the next five years.
Rodriguez says he finds ironic how his country faces a doctor shortage, yet he had to turn to another country for help, saying, “we can fill that gap now.”
For now, Rodríguez says he can only advise other students who feel disappointed by the U.S. medical schools.
“Don’t let nothing stop you just because you got a rejection letter saying you’re not good enough. If that’s really want you want to do, there are other ways.”