My Experience with St. Matthews School of Medicine…..thus far.

12 days until I start medical school….TWELVE. We leave for the island in 10. Holy crap. Am I really doing this? Yes, I am. Admittedly my resolve has been a little shaky the past few weeks. Thank goodness I am surrounded by such an awesome family who all refuse to let me quit (read: chicken out) and are willing to do anything they can to help me accomplish my dreams.

I started this blog in large part because I could find very little about other people’s experiences attending St. Matthews…or really about attending med school in the Caribbean in general! So, for anyone considering this crazy adventure, and looking for info or solidarity, here is an all inclusive overview of my experience thus far; the good, the bad, the ridiculous, and the unbelievably frustrating.

Applying:

Applying to St. Matthew’s School of Medicine is relatively painless. The application is easily accessible from their web page and is very strait forward. The application fee is a reasonable $75 and the application requirements are consistent with those of any other school; transcripts, MCATs, letters of recommendation, etc. That’s the good. Now, if you are trying to apply to a semester other than the one in the imminent future (truth: I am not entirely sure that was the correct use of the word imminent), you will not hear back from them for so long that the 1 person that believes in your dreams more than you (read: my mother…not specific to me, she believes in your dreams too) will get annoyed and inpatient and start calling every number she can find until she talks to someone and is able to express her displeasure.  Then things will move along. It is rather frustrating that it takes that level of harassment for the school to answer. For a longer winded version of that story, refer to Apply…Wait, Wait, Wait...

The Student Portal:

The student portal is there (supposedly) so you can keep track of what has been submitted and what is still missing. There are also areas where you can pay fees and deposits, fill out housing forms, and see which rooms are taken or available. It is extremely and I do mean EXTREMELY out of date. The housing tab shows the availability from Fall 2016. If you explore around the site a bit you will also find quite a bit from 2010-2012. Interesting. The school also does not update your account as they receive your paperwork. They do not have a problem, however, placing a hold on your account if they have not received all of your paperwork. The hold will stop you from being able to see all of the outdated information.

Interviewing:

The interview took place via Skype. I interviewed with Adriana Marin-Negron, the Director of Admissions. I will note that I created a new skype account with the email we had been using to communicate because she never asked me how to get ahold of me on skype. I was correct to think she was just assuming it would be the same e-mail. I was mildly perturbed that she told me over and over that she could not see my MCAT scores even though I submitted them via AMCAS and the admissions office had confirmed that they had received them.  Other than that, the interview was friendly and easy. I did tell her that because of the initial lack of response, I had taken a promotion at work and would rather finish the project and defer to the May semester (I originally applied for January). She was amenable to this and we ended the interview on a good note. I resubmitted my MCAT scores again after the interview. I then received an e-mail 3 days later, from Adriana, asking for my MCAT scores. Uhhhmmmmm?? Eventually she confirmed that she found them. FYI – my student portal still says they don’t have them.

Acceptance:

A few weeks after interviewing, I was notified that I had been accepted by both E-mail and phone call from Adriana. My e-mail indicated that I had been accepted for the January semester. The deadline for the seat deposit and letter of intent did as well. I e-mailed Adriana again and reminded her of our conversation and she agreed and sent me a new acceptance e-mail. It did not have new deadlines, however. I did not pay attention to them.

Seat Deposit:

The seat deposit is $500. As Don and I were trying to figure out if we could actually commit to this along with all of the other madness that was happening, we waited until January to pay this. When I e-mailed Adriana to ask when the deadline was for the seat deposit, I was informed it had been October and that I should pay it ASAP if I was planning to attend. I interviewed in October….that didn’t even make sense. BUT I didn’t care, we had made our decision! I paid the seat deposit and sent in the letter of intent.

Student Visa/Immigration:

Immigration has been quite possibly the most frustrating thing for me. Shortly after receiving my acceptance letter, I received an email from Jennifer Small, the school’s immigration specialist with a list of what I needed for my student visa, a packet of forms to be filled out, and instructions.

What is needed:

  • 1 front and 1 profile passport sized picture
  • The completed application for student visa (included in the e-mail)
  • The completed 3 page medical form (also included in the e-mail)
  • A Chest X-ray
  • HIV and VDRL Labs
  • A police report

Specifics:

  • The medical form must be signed AND stamped or notarized.
  • The labs and chest x-ray must also be signed and stamped by the physician that filled out the medical form.
  • The police report must be on letterhead and be either notarized or have a raised seal
  • All originals must be sent to the school. No copies or faxes.

My Issues:

1. My physician is in a rural farming community. He does not have a stamp. I was seen by his PA who also does not have a stamp. When I sent Jennifer an e-mail asking what to do, I received a less than friendly response telling me to get it notarized. I have yet to have a friendly interaction with this person and finding a notary to come to the doctor with me seemed obscure.

2. The PA that saw me did not want to sign the labs and x-ray because they were sent out and read by a different provider who did sign them. Eventually I did get her to sign them but her contention makes sense to me.

3. In Colorado, all police background checks are done through CBI – the Colorado Bureau of investigation. They cost $13. They do not come with a raised seal, apparently. I have requested this again with the request it be notarized.

4. St. Matthews apparently switched suites recently. I sent my paperwork to the address they gave me which was the old one. As a result, they have lost some of my paperwork. I was able to send Adriana a screenshot of the UPS tracker which showed both that it had arrived (they tried to argue that at first) and who signed for it. That was 9 days ago. They are still unable to find it. The paperwork was my lab and chest x-ray results (now signed and stamped). I received an e-mail from Adriana last night saying she had spoken to immigration and as long as they receive the police certificate, I can have the labs re-done on the island. I certainly hope the school plans to pay for that. I sent the police certificate to the same address and confirmed with CBI that it had been sent last Wednesday. I’m not super confident that they will receive it.

Housing and Room Deposit:

If you intend to live in student housing (which I will since Don is now not coming with me), you will be required to turn in your room application and a $1000 room deposit; it is best to do this as soon as possible. There are several options when it comes to student housing and they are listed on the application but not very clearly. I couldn’t figure out what the difference was.

I knew I didn’t want a roommate and I wanted a space that would be big enough for Don to work in when he came to visit. I clearly had no freaking idea how rooms were chosen or how to make sure I was not assigned a roommate. It says on the housing application to contact Sebastien Guilbard with any questions. So, I sent him an e-mail and I have to say, he is amazing. He answers quickly, on the same day, and knows what he is talking about. He clarified the room options a little bit:

The Residence Hall:

  • Singles:
    • Standard Single
    • Single Suite
    • Single Deluxe Suite
  • Doubles:
    • Standard Double
    • Double Suite
    • Double Deluxe Suite

All rooms have their own restroom, full size fridge, and microwave. The standard suites have a bigger bed. The deluxe suites have a bit of a sitting area in addition to the bed and desk. There is a shared kitchen area in the building as well as a pool. The residence hall is about 2 miles from the school (further than the residence suites) but is closer to Grocery stores, restaurants, and bars.

The Residence Suites:

    • Various versions of 2 bedroom apartments
    • 1 Studio apartment

Sebastien let me know that the Studio was currently occupied and would not be available but the single deluxe may be the next best thing. You rate your room choice from 1 (most desired) to 6 (least desired) He also let me know the process – rooms are first come first serve (so it is important to submit the deposit and application ASAP) and that he might have someone moving out of a single deluxe but wouldn’t know for sure until March and they give room assignments in April. Awesome. Clear and concise. He even answered when I got impatient and started asking on March 1st if he had heard anything. I did received several e-mails from Adriana about double deluxe suites when I asked her about singles which made me twitch a little but Sebastien assured me he would make sure I was in a single.

  End result: I am assigned to a Single Suite. It has a king sized bed, desk, 2 wardrobes, a dresser, a full size fridge and microwave, and its own bathroom with bathtub and shower. It is slightly smaller than the deluxe but is also slightly cheaper so I suppose I can’t complain. They also gave me a room number but because I have an admissions hold, I can’t see the housing layout on the portal and don’t know where it is or if it was occupied as of Fall Semester 2016.

Financials:

St. Matthew’s is an off shore school and is not title IV. They are not eligible for Federal Aid. They do work with 1 US bank to offer private financial aid. However, if you are not approved by that bank, they not only have no other options for you but it is like pulling teeth to get anyone to call you back. My darling husband was displeased with my level of panic and decided to take a page out of my mother’s book. He called every number he could find and left voicemails. No one ever called him back. I managed to get a hold of someone named Cheryl (recommended by Adriana) who’s e-mail signature says she works for Saba (sure, that’s not confusing at all) who confirmed that there are literally no other options.

My over-all experience thus far:

The admissions office is flaky at best. Adriana is kind and I firmly believe she means well but she seems forgetful and scattered. She does try her best to help and work out issues and I wonder if the lack of focus should be attributed to having too much on her plate or if there is a serious organization issue in the office. It does not make me feel better that the have ‘never lost a whole package before’. There is a LONG list of things I have never done before that would not be ok for me to do now.

The immigration specialist is rude. I am far from impressed. Any question or e-mail I have sent to her has been answered less than cordially, despite my best efforts to be nice. She seems completely unwilling to help and responds to inquiries in a way that makes me think maybe anyone who reaches out to her is disturbing her and should go away. It is absolutely asinine to me that it takes me and my family members calling literally every number on the website to get a hold of anyone, from admissions to financial aid.

Sebastien Guilbard is the saving grace of St. Matthew’s. Sebastien, if you ever read this – THANK YOU. Thank you for answering quickly and completely. Thank you for understanding that this is a terrifying risk and I have a billion questions and would like a little help making informed decisions. I appreciate you.

I am aware that I am taking a path that may ultimately be more difficult and may not be the ideal or the path most traveled. As my sweet friend Kevin wrote me recently, “You know that you are going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else right?” Yes, I am aware. Maybe this is the beginning of that and I sincerely hope that the lack of organization is limited to the business office on Orlando. However, even if it isn’t, I am following my dream and I will make the most of any and every opportunity that makes that possible. CURRENTLY REALLY FRUSTRATING CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

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