‘Students head abroad to get ahead’ by Joanna Plucinska, Editor of The Journal, Queen’s University

2013-09-20 21:05:52

Joanna_Headshot_7003_TL_WEB_display_.jpgWith increasing competition for medical and law schools, many are turning to international schools.

The appeal of going abroad is growing for Canadian graduate students.Students pursuing medical or law degrees are finding that they can get more of what they want from schools outside of the country.This means they could get into medical school without necessarily getting the grades needed for Canadian schools.Many British law schools don’t require the LSAT and offer one to two year programs, while Caribbean medical schools promise to accept students with lower GPAs.

An article in Maclean’s outlines the rising number of foreign law graduates applying for accreditation in Canada, many of whom were Canadian students who chose to study law abroad.While the number was around 225 in 1999, it had risen to 562 by 2007, displaying a noticeable trend.

The same rise can be seen with students pursuing medical degrees.According to the CBC, the number of Canadian students studying medicine abroad has more than doubled in the past five years. With over 10 schools in the Caribbean available to Canadians, and many more in Australia, Ireland and Eastern Europe, there is a wide variety from students to choose from.

The Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Queen’s, Dr. Richard Reznick, believes that the rise of Canadians going abroad who intend to return to Canada results from the rising number of students who want to become doctors.“There’s an increasing number of Canadian youth who want to become physicians and there’s a fixed envelope of spots in Canada,” he said.Going abroad doesn’t always provide a quick fix, however. Students who pursue international degrees have access to limited residency placements if they plan to return to Canada, Reznick said.

“About 2,500 Canadians will apply for and get [residency] spots,” he said. “In addition to that, there’s probably another 1,500 to 2,000 international students who apply for a small pool of spots, which is probably in the 300-500 range.” They also often pay far more for their education than they would in Canada.“Canadians pay about $20,000 for fees [every year]. It varies from school-to-school and province-to-province, but it’s in that average fee. For international students it would be easily double that or more [for a four year degree],” Reznick said.Giancarlo McEvenue, who is currently a resident at the University of Toronto studying reconstructive and plastic surgery, studied abroad in the Caribbean and managed to get a residency in Canada.His dream of becoming a doctor sent him to the small island of Saba to pursue a medical degree. Upon graduating in 2010, he was recognized in Canada as an international medical graduate (IMG) — something that made it more difficult for him to secure competitive residency spots. “When I’m accepted to residency here, I have a three month probation period. They watch me under close observation. If there are any gross errors in my medical judgment or ethics, then I will be terminated and I would lose my residency position,” he said.“As soon as a Canadian medical student gets a residence position, they have job security and benefits.” While his status as an IMG carries some consequences, he will still be able to become a practicing physician like his fellow Canadian residents.While the school gave him the chance to achieve his dreams, he said the quality of education wasn’t always comparable to what Canadian schools had to offer.

He claims the program he attended leaves students with book smarts but no clinical exposure, while Canadian medical students have chances to work in the hospital and interact with research leaders.McEvenue, who got his residency by seeking out competitive programs, said he recommends trying the North American systems first, but that schools like Saba offer a second chance for students to become doctors.It’s not just medical students who are looking to go abroad for their education.

As John Kelly, a former law professor who runs a program called Canada Law From Abroad, noted, some students are turning to British law schools to get a legal education.“If you look at the international legal education market, the new paradigm of professional services, there are all kinds of opportunities for lawyers out there [outside of Canada] …The U.K. is the centre for that,” Kelly said.

Especially given the high demand for specialized work in the legal field, Kelly believes that the Masters in Law programs offered in the UK give law applicants a competitive edge internationally. Given that 25 percent of legal graduates in Canada can’t find articling positions, Kelly believes that going abroad presents better job opportunities for students.

Ana Baidoukova, ArtSci ’10, said she’s been happy with her legal education in the U.K.After completing a one-year graduate diploma in law and a six-month legal practice course at The College of Law, a program that you are eligible for after completing a Bachelor’s degree, Baidoukova is now working as a trainee lawyer for an international corporate law firm based in the U.K.“I chose to do [my degree] in the UK because they have a much quicker and much more streamlined process of how you start work as a lawyer,” she said.

In Canada, a JD degree takes three years and requires an LSAT. However, unlike a JD, her diploma isn’t well-recognized outside of the U.K. But, because of her job prospects, she isn’t worried.
“[The lack of recognition] is mitigated by the fact that you would get a good contract with a good firm, in which case the experience of the firm is more important than where you did your law degree or what degree you have,” Baidoukova said.

With job experience at a global firm, she can get a job back in Canada or elsewhere in the world if she wants, providing her with the versatility she wants as a lawyer.She added that she believes even if you don’t get a contract at a firm, you’re in no worse of a situation than Canadian law school graduates who can’t find a job. One can still pursue positions in business, teaching or go back to school and upgrade their degree.“It’s becoming a more widely known option to a lot of people…you come out with a job which you wouldn’t get in North America.”