A committed relationship didn’t stop Kelly Long from going to medical school in the Caribbean.
But the Upper Arlington native and Ohio State University alum wasn’t satisfied with the job she had in Chicago.
“I felt like I was missing my calling,” Long said.
With support from her family and her boyfriend (now her fiancé), she applied and was accepted in St. George’s University in Grenada, which has an estimated population of 107,000 people.
After two years on the island, Long return to the states to continue her medical education in New York City and Washington D.C.
She and her fiancé plan to return to central Ohio to start her residency with Mount Carmel at the end of July.
Long said the residency will help shape how her practice as a physician for the rest of her life.
“Medical school is a difficult and challenging experience but it’s also very rewarding as well,” she said.
Ohio can expect to see more U.S. doctors who studied abroad in the coming years.
Without them, Ohio won’t be able to keep up with the demand for doctors and will need nearly 700 new primary care doctors by 2030 just to meet the state’s basic needs, according to St. George’s University officials.
While large Ohio cities such as Columbus and Cleveland will have a surplus of doctors, rural areas experience the shortage more acutely, said Dr. G. Richard Olds, president of St. George’s University.
In addition to the shortage, more U.S. medical graduates have opted to go into specialized practices rather than primary care partly because of salary and partly because of who gets accepted into the highly competitive American medical schools, Olds said.
Due to the level of competitiveness, U.S. medical schools focus too much on standardized test scores and grade-point averages, he added.
Often students from wealthier areas are the ones accepted, but they eventually choose to return home or to similar areas to start their practices.
It’s “not an easy sell” to persuade students from New York and California to work in rural areas such as Zanesville, Olds said.
But if medical schools accepted more students from rural areas there’s a greater likelihood of them returning to undeserved areas, he added.
Students with GPAs that barely meet the threshold of acceptance for some American medical schools doesn’t mean they became a good doctor, Olds said.
“I can turn anyone into a good doctor … I can’t take mediocre people and turn them into good people,” he added.
Olds said that 1 percent of practicing American doctors are SGU alumni and more than one in four U.S. physicians have been trained abroad.
Seventy percent of the SGU graduates go into primary care compared with 30 percent from U.S. medical schools, he added.
“Our doctors can go into the places where the doctor shortages are greatest,” Olds said.
During her two years in the Caribbean, Long said she and other international medical students from the United States faced added challenges on top of their studies from the island’s dependency on imported products, inconsistent use of air conditioning and unreliable transportation.
“There isn’t a Starbucks on the corner,” she said.
But living on the island helped shaped her experiences in medicine such as seeing native islanders line up and wait days for a specialists to visit.
“You understand how all those extra influences play into your ability to learn and to heal your body,” Long said.