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Posted May 03, 2009 by publisher in Cuban Healthcare

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When Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas was ushered into a former naval academy with badly faded paint on this island nation last week, she wasn’t prepared for what she found.

The revelation that more than 100 U.S. students are enrolled in a Cuban medical school surprised Thomas, who made a fact-finding trip to the country last week.

Thomas and her contingent, in Cuba to learn how Cubans prepare for hurricanes, were introduced to medical students from Boston, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

“They are all just as American as they can be and they love what they are doing and are very excited about the programs they are in,” Thomas said.

500 full scholarships

The Latin American School of Medicine has 500 slots for U.S. students that provide full-ride scholarships, including room and board and a small monthly stipend, but only 115 are enrolled.

Although the demand for such a program is potentially great, few students are taking advantage of the offer for a free medical education. The Association of American Medical Colleges says the shortage of U.S. doctors is worsening and that medical students are graduating with a median debt of more than $120,000.

The challenge of taking classes in Spanish and living in a poor country without the amenities are too much for some, said Jose Regino Perez-Polo, a Cuban-American and chairman of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, the oldest medical school in Texas.

“To some extent they see it as a program with political intent,” said Regino Perez-Polo, who has traveled to Cuba to help talented Cuban scientists get better training.

Program began in 2001

For the qualified who are willing to learn Spanish, like Kerriann Minott, 26, of Piscataway, N.J., the school offers a quality medical education that can lead to a residency at a U.S. hospital.

Of the 17 students who have graduated since U.S. students were first accepted into the six-year program in 2001, three have been accepted to residencies in hospitals in New York and New Mexico.

The rest are working in hospitals while studying for the three examinations required for students who graduate from foreign medical schools, said Lucius Walker, who heads the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace.

Spanish a challenge

Walker said that despite the hurdles, the number of students involved in the program is growing. He said 17 are scheduled to graduate at the end of this semester.

Minott was unable to speak a word of Spanish when she arrived in Cuba a few months ago. She’s been studying Spanish for six weeks and is still struggling, but is confident she’ll be able to handle instruction in Spanish when she begins her first year in the fall.

“At first I was like, ‘Cuba? I don’t know,’ ” when her father told her about the program. But she became convinced after doing research.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Minott said.

Cuba founded the Latin American School of Medicine in 1999 to help poor countries in Africa and Latin America address a severe shortage of physicians.

During a visit to Cuba by the Congressional Black Caucus in June 2000, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told then-Cuban President Fidel Castro about the severe shortage of doctors in his home state.

“Every county I represent is classified as medically under­-served,” Thompson said. He said two students from Mississippi are applying to enter the Cuban school next year.

Screenings and warnings

Castro made the offer. He made the offer twice more over the next six months until finally, Walker recalled, “It hit me like a ton of bricks … I said to my staff, ‘This is our responsibility.’ ”

IFCO began screening applicants and sent the first eight students to Cuba, but the program got off to a rocky start. The first group wasn’t vetted properly, nor were they warned about the difficulties of living in a Third World country.

Walker said applications are now tightly screened and amply warned about the difficulties awaiting them.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on June 27, 2009 by Mukeshbabu Chand

    I am a Nepalese student interested in Cuban culture and History. I little bit studied and heard about Cuban People’s liberation movement. And Castro’s leadership to establish leftist state and continue its development is really good example for leaders of poor countries like Nepal. Here in Nepal the leftist movement is going on rapidly.
    In article, it is written that full scholarship is only for the U S students. There is no any quota for students of Poor Asian country, Nepal. If there is any Quota how can I get the information about that.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on June 27, 2009 by paul

    500 scholarships to hopefully create at least several hundred future Myers.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on October 30, 2009 by amobi kanu


  4. Follow up post #4 added on October 31, 2009 by Alberto N Jones

    Rob,  are you loosing it?  Fearing Myers is not the solution.  Would you prefer some of these kids going down in a hail of AK-47, as it is happening every day, everywhere? Creating a similar program for our minorities, would make a difference.  Criticize is easy. Any inept can do that.  To create, develop and implement positives causes, require intellect, vision and commitment, which is not readily available in today’s world.

  5. Follow up post #5 added on October 31, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Who is Myer?

    What are you talking about?

    Cuba consulting services

  6. Follow up post #6 added on October 31, 2009 by Alberto N Jones

    You were the one to include Myers in #2, presumably the guy accused of spying for Cuba while at the US State Department.  If that is who you are talking about, I am not concerned with him or other living individuals. That’s for the FBI to determine.  My problem is with the hundredes of youngsters killing themselves everyday, especially in Chicago, where the Mayor, Chief of Police, Secretary of Education nor the President, are capable of solving this mini genocide.  That is a Biggie.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on October 31, 2009 by paul

    Those scholarships will politicize those people and they’ll become little PR machines within their own community for the “compassion” of the Cuban government.

    500 people that might land in sensitive government positions, with an intimate connection with an island that continues to court Americans as potential moles.

    There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Cuba knows this, and it’s to divert attention from an island full of blatant problems. I guess that the leftists that are getting an education in Cuba don’t care about militarism in Cuba, but just the “evil” American society.

  8. Follow up post #8 added on November 01, 2009 by Alberto N Jones

    This is not a productive exchange.  Not educating people for fear of their ability to think, was the most powerful reason for imposing ignorance on hundred of millions of people for centuries.  Learning to read in many places was punishable with death.  If that was not the underlying cause and the obsessive need to keep the American Physicians as the highest paid in the world, we (USA) could educate not 500, 5000 but 10,000 physicians every year, with what we gladly spent every week in Viet Nam, Korea or today in Irak or Afghanistan.  It is sadly a matter of priority. 

    Just look at our heated discussion over the healthcare public option, followed by a defening silence over the tragic plight of fifty million individuals without insurance?  Let’s all of us, liberal, conservative, independents and none of the above, work toward a moral human solution, rather than perpetuating this world wide disgrace in the XXI Century.  Let’s end the charitable, humanitarian images of powerful people feeding the needy, by stopping all wars and its killing machine industry.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on November 01, 2009 by paul

    I’m totally fine with Cuba giving out scholarships, but it’s more about PR, indoctrination and having more people in the United States who are sympathetic to Cuban Fidelismo. They know this, and smart people know this as well.

  10. Follow up post #10 added on January 20, 2010 by ldilian moses

    Am coming from Africa the country kenya,i hold diploma in clinical medicine and commmunity health,i would like to apply for medical scholarship in latin american medical school,cuba

    I see they help people from very poor countries,am comming from a community called the samburu whereby we dont have even a single person who has graduated as a medical doctor.

    Please help me on where i can contact for this scholarships.thank you

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