Transferring From Foreign Medical Schools

Students at international medical schools will face challenges transferring to U.S. schools.


Each year, there are at least hundreds of aspiring physicians studying medicine abroad who consider transferring into an American medical school. This diverse pool of medical students includes both foreign nationals studying at various institutions with aspirations of practicing in the United States, and U.S. citizens and residents who chose to go abroad and now wish to return home.

Transferring between medical schools, even for those at an American medical school, is already difficult. What is the likelihood that foreign medical students can transfer in?

As we said in an earlier post, most U.S. medical schools only consider potential transfer applicants coming from schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), which only accredits medical schools in the United States and Canada. However, transfer policies vary widely among schools, and there are a handful of institutions that consider applications from students enrolled at international medical schools.

[Consider the pros and cons of applying to foreign medical schools.]

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) keeps a database of individual school transfer policies, including whether schools will consider applicants from universities overseas. As always, it is best to confirm with the individual school for the most current information.

According to this database, seven U.S. schools were identified (including Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science and Drexel University) that consider foreign transfer applicants. There are some schools that also consider U.S. residents of their state enrolled in medical school overseas (such as the University of Wisconsin--Madison). 

In most cases, before you can transfer, you must have taken Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and achieved a score at least above 200 (240 and above is considered competitive), in addition to having outstanding academic credentials at your overseas institution.

[See the rankings of the Best Medical Schools in the United States.]

Some advantages with transferring to a U.S. medical school include:

Enhanced residency matching opportunities: Though foreign medical graduates (FMGs) routinely match at U.S. residency programs, the likelihood of a U.S. medical graduate matching is much higher overall: According to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), more than 94 percent of U.S. seniors matched in 2011, compared to 50 percent of U.S. FMGs. Only 40 percent of non-U.S. FMGs matched that year.

Keep in mind that these numbers include all specialties; there are some specialties more accustomed to taking FMGs than others, and it is generally thought that some of the most competitive specialties (like plastic or orthopaedic surgery) rarely consider international graduates.

Ease of licensing: U.S. medical school graduates benefit from a much smoother licensing process than FMGs. Before applying to residency, FMGs must be certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). In many states, FMGs must complete additional U.S. training time to be eligible for licensure, and their applications often take significantly longer to process. It is not uncommon, particularly in California, for FMGs to be asked to leave a training program after their second or third year due to delays in processing licensure applications.

Before embarking on the transfer application process, it is also wise to consider some disadvantages:

Low likelihood of acceptance: Even U.S. medical students have a difficult time transferring between schools. It is far more difficult to do so as an international medical student, and your options will be more limited. Surprisingly, to be considered competitive as an international transfer applicant, you almost always need to have a higher GPA and USMLE scores than a similarly placed U.S. premed or medical student.

Potential lengthening of training time: As with students transferring within the United States, education or training time could be extended when transferring from an international to an American medical school. Because international medical school curricula differ more substantially from U.S. curricula, it is far more likely these students might have to repeat certain classes or clerkships.

Transferring from an overseas medical school to an American institution is probably one of the most difficult admissions processes. It is often advised that applicants who feel they are less competitive think twice before planning on studying overseas with an expectation of transferring back to the United States. However you plan your medical school career strategy, it is important to know your options beforehand. 

Ibrahim Busnaina, M.D. is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and coauthor of "Examkrackers' How To Get Into Medical School." He has been consulting with prospective medical school applicants, with a special focus on minority and other nontraditional candidates, since 2006.

Corrected on : Corrected 9/26/11: An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect example of a medical school that considers foreign transfer applicants.