Medical school operates on its image
Institution in Grenada emerges as Caribbean educational force
BY RICHARD CHACON
The Boston Globe
TRUE BLUE POINT, Grenada -- It was a tiny, offshore medical school
the Cold War when U.S. troops stormed this island nation in 1983 to rescue U.S.
students from an unstable socialist government.
Back then, St. George's Medical School was little more than a
trailer-style buildings tucked into a lush tropical hillside, a haven for aspiring
doctors who couldn't get into a stateside program.
Now St. George's is in the midst of a transformation that officials
here hope will
change its image as a sleepy refuge for second-tier U.S. students into a truly
``This is a school that has withstood battles before, mostly with
doubted us,'' Charles Modica, St. George's founder and president, said in an
interview. ``But we see an opportunity now to become more pan-Caribbean while
still being a top-notch medical school.''
St. George's ambitions are well-timed. The number of high school
produced every year by the Caribbean's two dozen countries has grown to about
125,000. Some study in Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, but most
traditionally go to the University of the West Indies, which has campuses in
Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados.
Over the last five years, the school has undergone an expansion
that would be
considered dramatic for any university. In a $42 million overhaul, funded mostly by
tuition and loans from investors, it has added libraries, classrooms,
state-of-the-art laboratories and beachside dormitories.
The result has been the birth of a small city of salmon-colored
buildings on the
southern end of the island. Enrollment has surged to more than 2,100, compared
with about 600 at the time of the 1983 military intervention.
When trustees recently decided to shut down the English program
-- one of
several new undergraduate programs targeted at Caribbean students -- because
only three students had signed up, St. George's ran into criticism from the
normally supportive Grenadian government. Authorities have pressed for the
university to admit more local students.
Caribbean students make up about 13 percent of St. George's undergraduate
enrollment and 4 percent at the medical school.
Grenada's government agreed to expand the school's charter in
1996 to let St.
George's become a full-fledged university, adding new undergraduate and
graduate programs. Although the medical school still draws the most students,
St. George's now offers studies in veterinary medicine, business administration,
public health and marine biology.
The average grade-point average for entering students this year
was 3.4 on a
scale of 4.0, just below the 3.5 average in U.S. medical schools. Of the graduates
who take the standard medical licensing exam for the first time, 93 percent of St.
George's graduates pass, slightly higher than the average of U.S. medical
Faculty and administrators say students here are talented enough
medicine but often unfairly rejected by narrow admission standards at U.S.
medical schools, and students flourish in St. George's ``problem-based'' medical
instruction, which combines American and European teaching styles.
Students say the novelty of Grenada's beaches and year-round surfing
``My friends all think I'm kicking back, drinking piña
coladas and having a great
time,'' said Baher Maximos, a 22-year-old from Ontario, Calif. ``But . . . there's not
much to do here in Grenada except study, so that's what you end up doing the
most. This isn't Cancún.''
Robert Crone, dean of international programs at Harvard Medical
there was plenty of skepticism when programs like St. George's were developed.
``That's not necessarily the case now,'' he said.