Gilmar Gutiérrez, an international medical student from Ecuador currently going through his last year of medical school at Queen’s University, has started a GoFundMe page to raise funds to support himself through the final year of education.
The fee for international medical students at Queen’s and other universities is close to $80,000 per year. Adding in the cost of living at approximately $10,000 a year makes for a total of over $90,000 in expenses per year.
“Since childhood, I have always wanted to help others, especially those who are vulnerable, underrepresented, and stigmatized,” said Gutiérrez.
Gutiérrez completed his undergraduate degree in Canada at the University of British Columbia and was then accepted into medical school at Queen’s.
When international students apply for a study permit in Canada, they have to show ample funds to cover the first year of tuition, ancillary fees, and living expenses. Financial capability demonstrated, a student is granted a study permit. This proof of funds can be communicated by showing bank statements, loan statements, sponsor letters, etc.
“My parents, family friends, and bank loans have been my only options, and though it’s been very tough, I have managed to finance three years of medical education,” Gutiérrez explained.
However, the economic fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, making people vulnerable to situations involving tough choices. Gutiérrez’s parent’s income relies on commerce and tourism, which are hard-hit industries in Ecuador, like many other place in the world during a global pandemic. For Gutiérrez, last year’s fees are extremely difficult to manage, a troubling circumstance when he is so close to his educational finish line.
In addition, there are no banks in Canada that provide a line of credit to international students to cover full years or program fees, nor are there any grants and scholarships that could provide complete coverage, including fees and living costs. The available funding options only supplement these expenses.
“We understand how difficult it can be to finance an international post-secondary education, and we have been speaking to this student about their situation. Queen’s is committed to supporting international students and providing them with an exceptional learning experience,” Queen’s University said in a statement.
“We recognize that international undergraduate tuition fees (and this includes medical school fees) are higher than domestic undergraduate fees; these fees are set based on a range of factors.”
The University explained that one reason why most international student fees are higher than those of domestic students in Ontario is that, while the provincial government provides funding to universities to assist in covering the operational costs of teaching, learning, and student life for domestic students, it does not provide operational funding for international students. Universities need to set their international tuition fees at a higher rate to help cover the costs of delivering unfunded services and instruction to international students.
Keeping all of these factors in mind, along with the reality of the pandemic, it is indeed challenging at many fronts for international students.
“It is difficult to ask for help, especially when it comes to money, but I’m running out of options. I’m overdue on my first term tuition payment, and the deadline for the second tuition payment is fast approaching. I’ve communicated this to Queen’s, and they have informed me that I can continue with my studies, however, as it is standard practice, if my tuition is not paid in full, my graduation will be placed on hold until I can pay,” said Gutiérrez.
As an international medical student, Gutiérrez is also not eligible to participate in the 2022 Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS), a national organization that provides the mandatory matching service for medical residency training throughout Canada, unless he graduates.
Once graduated, Gutiérrez will be able to start his career and permanent residency application in Canada.
“I want to practice in this great country that has continuously opened its doors for me. I believe diversity of experiences is something valued in Canada, and I hope to promote inclusivity and representation in medicine further,” said Gutiérrez.
He also mentioned that aspiring international students must research and find every possible venue to fund their studies, especially during unforeseen circumstances like pandemics and their subsequent economic effects. Moreover, he is also grateful for all the help from Queen’s University and the community for directing him towards something hopeful.
He has raised over $40,000 in funds of his $91,000 goal, and the campaign is still ongoing.
Gutiérrez also shared his plans of starting a fund to support international students once he gets into his medical career — a means of helping determined students like himself who find themselves in similar situations.