Cuba Culture

What it’s like to attend medical school in Havana Cuba

Posted July 27, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

By Charlie Smith | Greenwood Commonwealth

Conditions at medical school in Cuba more closely resemble summer camp than a modern university.

“Things are very simple,” says Akua Brown, a Californian studying medicine in Havana. “You stay in a room with about eight to 18 other people. You share bunkbeds. You share a bathroom with the whole floor.”

They don’t have cars. School buses are the most popular form of locomotion.

There’s no air conditioning, and the breakfast menu never varies: bread and milk.

Despite big lifestyle adjustments, Brown and another student at the Latin American School of Medicine told an audience at Mississippi Valley State University Saturday that the chance to become a doctor outweighs any negatives.

“I have tremendous respect for the doctors and the medical students who work in Cuba,” Brown said. “They work very hard for very little pay. There, being a doctor doesn’t mean you have a fancy house and drive a Mercedes Benz. It’s because you care about your community, and you care about the people around you.”

Brown and Keasha Guerrier, a 23-year-old New Yorker, are both about to enter their fourth year of medical school, which is paid for completely by the Cuban government.

Guerrier said Americans have a skewed image of Cuba and its communist government.

“In my experience, it could be likened to a small town, the whole country, in terms of the warmth of the people, the hospitality,” she said.

Students need science coursework but not a bachelor’s degree to enter. They must be between 18 and 30 and commit to coming back to practice medicine in poor areas in the United States.

Ellen Bernstein is associate director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, which handles admissions for the Cuban scholarship program.

She said they don’t consider MCATs, the entrance exam most U.S. medical school require, and have no firm GPA requirement.

“We’re in a position where if we had 500 qualified students, we could accept them all,” Bernstein said.

The school is approved by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, which must approve all foreign doctors.

Cuba opened it as a training opportunity for foreign students in 1998 in an old naval academy.

Students from 30 nations now attend, including about 125 from the United States.

From her first visit, Bernstein realized it was something special.

“We saw all these Nicaraguan students wearing their white lab coats and carrying around their anatomy textbooks, and we just thought, ‘Wow! Wow!’” she said. “There’s just not any other place in the world where these young people would have been given that kind of opportunity.”

The entire program is in Spanish and lasts six years, seven if you need one year of Spanish language courses.

Brown knew Spanish going in. Guerrier had taken Spanish in school but had to sharpen her conversational skills during her first year.

Students do classroom work the first two years and then do rotations for four years in a hospital. Graduates must pass a seven-hour multiple choice test after graduation before starting residencies in the United States.

About 20 potential medical students attended the conference at Valley Saturday.

Brandon Butler of Jackson wasn’t looking forward to living in a room with 18 people, but the thought of a free medical education was very appealing.

He graduated this spring from Mississippi State with a degree in biology and Spanish, so the language difference is not too big of a concern for him.

Butler has taken the MCAT but hasn’t applied to any medical schools yet. He now intends on applying to the Cuban school.

Dickie Stevens, a Humphreys County supervisor, visited the school and was impressed.

“Here, you can’t help get the impression that it’s all a mercenary motivation. Everyone’s out there to get,” he said. “In Cuba, it’s a compassionate motivation. People are there because they care about people, and they care about the future.”

Stevens said many things in Cuba didn’t impress him, especially the poverty, but he said the medical system may be better than the United States’.

Cuba has one doctor for every 168 people, he said.

Barry Campbell, chair of the biology department at Delta State, thinks the Cuban scholarship program is a great way to increase the number of doctors in Mississippi.

Campbell advises many pre-med students and knows the long odds they face getting in.

“We’re graduating only 110 medical students as physicians a year,” he said. “Think about it. That’s just how many are graduating. We didn’t say they’re all staying. A lot of them have to leave the state because they owe so much money.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson said without the pressure of student loans of more than $100,000 hanging over them, more young doctors might decide to practice in places like Itta Bena or Rolling Fork.

“There would be nothing better than to homegrow somebody and send ‘em back home and say, ‘Go to work.’”

Member Comments

On October 31, 2008, radhika chang wrote:

as said before the life here is very simple.i do not know if i could survive one day.i am from Jamaica and i would like to study medicine in cuba.i can make sacrifices though since i love this profession

On December 13, 2008, Keturah Yaledah-Bashaar wrote:

From a family with 10 people containing 8 children and 2 parents with a dog, I believe i could make it in Cuba’s Medical School. I’ve had some questions about the program and haven’t seemed to get the answers. I wanted to know if I would have to go to a 4-yr college FIRST and then apply for Cuba’s Medical School or can i just go right into Cuba. And i also wanted someone to talk to when i had questions because I’m so excited about this program. I’m in the 10th grade and so ready to go to college. I am and A Honor Roll student who is very stong in math and science and would like to become and OBGYN. I believe i can achieve that goal if i am accepted into the Medical Program.

On December 16, 2008, Iroko Alade Yussuf wrote:

I am a Nigerian, i just graduated this year from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, studied medical physiology and i urgently wants to apply despite the conditions at medical school in Cuba. Moreso, i will like to get contacts (email, phone numbers etc) of the person to reach for guides and questions through my email address because i need to know requirements for this admission. i will be glad if this is replied as soon as possible because i am keen for this profession.

On January 02, 2009, Dathan wrote:

im really interested but i need to know a whole lot more

On January 06, 2009, publisher wrote:

We have just created a new thread in our Cuba forum that is designed to be a central location for more information on Cuba med school.

How to get into Cuba medical school

On January 27, 2009, isaacdanaa wrote:

I am from a single parent who needs help from any one out there to come to my aid.I have a blind brother to take care of alongside two sisters i promise to work any one willing to help me after studies.My dream is to study medicine in cuba or any where in the world.My contact number is(+233245954408).God bless you i have completed high school

On March 14, 2009, KEnny wrote:

I am from Jamaica and i would love to find out more information the Cuban Scholarships to study medicine in that country

On April 01, 2009, Iroko Alade Yussuf wrote:

I want to be directed to a guidian on how one can process the school.

On April 24, 2009, Ursula wrote:

am a nigerian and would really love to study medicine over there in cuba.i’ve always dreamt of becoming a qualified and skilled doctor.pls,i need to know more information on the admissions.thanks

On May 06, 2009, ABIGAIL SPENCER wrote:

All my life i have had this dream of becoming a doctor. I am from Jamaica and I really want to attend the University to study, I hear that it’s real hard but i hardly think about that part. I hope that this is what God has planned for me because its has always been my dream. Anyone with any information about the admission could you let me know? I’m getting nowhere at the moment.

On July 27, 2009, NJ wrote:

my aunt studied medicine in cuba and she is considered as one of the best doctors in my country,Zambia! The programme there is excellent,and yeah…she studied there on scholarship!! Well done CUBA!! I would not mind studying there if its GOD’S will for my life. GOD bless y’all in JESUS’ name!

On August 09, 2009, Jason Davy wrote:

I am interested in Med could I get more info ASAP. Please I would love to go on the next batch. Por favor. Soy Xamaca ( jamaica).

On September 07, 2009, owen wrote:

i am a emt from from jamaica and presently doing the science’s,26 year’s old how can i apply to medical school?

On September 12, 2009, Naama Johnson wrote:

Hello my name is Naama Johnson and i currently attend South Cobb HIgh School .Im in the Math and Science Magnet Program at SCHS and is very excited to learn more about this Medical School in Cuba. I plan on going to cuba after i get out of school to become an anesthesiologist or and OBGYN midwife. I would like to know more .


On September 14, 2009, oluchukwu o wrote:

hello, i am an undergraduate of a nigeria university want to know more about medical nursing and mood of application for foregin students

On September 15, 2009, Abegel Spencer wrote:

Hi, i recently found out that there are scholarships offered in Jamaica for persons who wish to attent the University of Havana.

You just have to take in your resume and a cover letter, then you will hear back if you get a scholarship. Not everyone gets through the same year that they apply because of the numerous persons who have applied and they accept about seventeen persons each year.

If you don’t get accepted the year you apply there is a chance that you will get through the other year or the one after.

On September 15, 2009, Abegel Spencer wrote:

Sorry i forgot to say that the resume and application letter should be taken in to the cuban embassy. For other persons who are not from Jamaica maybe you should check if the scholarships are available at the cuban embassy in your country.

On September 19, 2009, yared woldemichael wrote:

I am 18 year old Ethiopian,learning freshman in field of pharmacy at one of Ethiopian universities.But i have a great interest to become a physician since i was a little,i hope you will help me in giving me a medicine scholarship.thank you for your generosity ....hope to hear from you.

On September 29, 2009, mwamba chabu clerian wrote:

Iam zambian by nationality who wish to study medicine in cuba.I hold advanced university diploma in clinical medicine from chainama hills college of health sciences in association with university of zambia.In adtioni i hold certificates in general management Hiv/Aids and surgical emergecy. i have beenworking at goverment hospital for 8 years and i have vast c linical experiance. iam kindly requesting for contact who can guide me about enroment proceses .

On November 13, 2009, Crystal Bailey wrote:

well i’m jamaican and would really love to be a nurse and the cuban program is very appealing but i need more info like, how to apply etc.

On November 14, 2009, radhika chang wrote:

well i want to be medical doctor from i was very young. the thing is that i want to have a profession that i am comfortable with;one that i enjoy doing.having this interest and want-to-do spirit serves as a driving force to help people with their health. i love this. in jamaica my life is very rough and so i want to live the rest of my having a profession that i love.

On November 24, 2009, JOANNE wrote:

do i have to learn spanish…to study in cuba

On November 25, 2009, publisher wrote:

Comment deleted.

We cannot help you apply for medical school in Cuba. You can try our sister site for information about medical school in Cuba.

On February 28, 2011, Dr Hence teddy hou wrote:

I am very happy to study medicine in cuba this year,my dream comes true ever since a little boy.Thank God for that he has answered ma prayer, with the knowlegde i have i hope i’ll bless ma people with.Delight ur self in d LORD and He will give u d desire of ur heart.From solomon mentor is Ben carson.Hw abt u reader?

On March 01, 2011, daniel barasa wrote:

I wished to study medicine since i was a child and if bestowed this chance i wont let the sponsors down, studying in Kenya has so many challenges and in spite of that i tried and cleared my B.Sc. but still will to study Medicine. please send me contacts so that i can equally have a chance in applying for my studies. thank you!

On August 02, 2011, boki wrote:

I thank the LORD dat i have been one othe 90 selected from Sauth Africa to study medicine at Cuba.WE WILL BE MAKING OUR WAY TO CUBA THIS YEAR ON SEPTEMBER,JUST WANT TO KNOW WAT TO BRING IN TERM OF SKUL N IN AND HOW DOES IT FEE TO STUDY AT CUBA.

On August 16, 2011, max wrote:

hi, im a south african. i’ve jst passed my matric last year and i ga’t good symbols in maths,science n biology. i came frm a poorly disadvantaged family.when i was young i always dreamnt of becoming a wel trained and qualified doctor. i just wana know how to get forms and wht are the pre-requirest.i realy want 2 make my dream come true.

On September 19, 2011, ODEGA EMMANUEL wrote:

Am a medical student in a nigerian university,i would like to know how residency in surgery(urology)like in havana medical school cuba.

On September 23, 2011, p wrote:

Hi, im from Jamaica. im seeking help to get in to medical school in Cuba, every time i think about my futur of becoming A Doctor tears run from my eyes like rivers running from the hills,even now. persons who got in to medical school plz make good use of it.