Sunday, 24 July 2011

Cuba graduates more doctors for the world: Class of 2011 includes 19 US physicians

Source:, 23 July 2011.

Following stirring choral offerings ranging from Ave Maria to We Are the World, 19 US medical students were among those awarded their degrees at today’s graduation of physicians, nurses and allied health professions of the Medical University of Havana’s Dr Salvador Allende Health Sciences Faculty. The new US physicians are among 1396 international medical students graduating this week throughout Cuba who were enrolled in the full-scholarship Latin American Medical School (ELAM) program. They all completed a bridging course and another two years of basic sciences study at ELAM’s main Havana campus, before fanning out to health sciences faculties across the country for their final four clinical years.

Here in Havana, Allende is one of the faculties celebrating graduations today, 22 countries represented in its Class of 2011, including Cuba and the USA. In his remarks, Allende’s Dean Dr Jorge Jimenez called them “worthy young men and women ready to do battle for health anywhere in the world.”

ELAM Rector Dr Juan Carrizo noted that, since the first ELAM students received their degrees in 2005, the program has graduated over 9900 MDs from the Americas, Africa and Asia. He praised those who made their medical studies possible, including the students themselves, their parents and professors, and former President Fidel Castro whose idea founded the ELAM program. “We owe ourselves to our vocation,” he reminded the graduates in closing, “to see people as patients, never clients, and to apply our knowledge, skills and commitment to help them.” Dr Carrizo was among various speakers who paid tribute to the late Rev. Lucius Walker, director of the Inter-Religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors for Peace, whose work was vital to the US contingent of students, calling him a “courageous man of principles.”

MEDICC International Director Gail Reed was a guest at the graduation. She explained that MEDICC provides the ELAM program with latest-edition textbooks and carries out cooperation projects with students from Haiti, Honduras and the USA. MEDICC supports US graduates’ transition into medical practice through the MD Pipeline to Community Service, which awards fellowships to defray the costs of US board exams and preparatory courses, provides students and graduates with US physician mentors, coordinates clinical opportunities for students in US public hospitals and community health centers, and conducts outreach about ELAM to US residency programs. “Our heartiest congratulations go to these wonderful young people from across the United States,” she said. “And we want to let them know how much they are needed back home, where health disparities continue to plague our communities along lines of race, gender and income.”

Portraits of US Graduates, Class of 2011

Kereese Gayle, Atlanta, Georgia

  • I’ve finally realized my dream; it’s the end of one journey. Now, I’m anxious to get back home and contribute to making change.
  • In Cuba, I’ve learned perseverance; and my Cuban professors taught me by their example of heartfelt connection with their patients.
  • I plan to apply for a residency in pediatrics.

Mena Ramos, Chicago, Illinois and the Philippines

  • The first thing I want to do is see family in Chicago, and then go to the Philippines to work with a community organization there.
  • In Cuba, I learned how to create, to make opportunities in every situation, to find my own space.
  • On the heels of my clerkship in Contra Costa County, California—which was an amazing learning experience—I plan to apply for a residency in family medicine.

Michael Woods, Atlanta, Georgia

  • I’m going home to see family first—I have a sister and a nephew I don’t even know yet! Then I’ll finish the steps of the USMLE exams.
  • In Cuba, I became a better person, and especially I learned to accept challenges that make you stronger. I learned not to run away, but to step up.
  • I want to be a primary care physician, either in family medicine or pediatrics. The basic principle I’ll take with me is that we need to go back to those in need: medicine should be free, and I want to contribute ideas that can make that happen.

Akira Jackson, Los Angeles (Compton), California

  • My 9-month plan starts today: first, finish my exams and then apply for a residency.
  • In Cuba, I learned that it is your community that makes you who you are. You find that in Cuba, where so many things are lacking, yet people are strong together and love life. It may sound corny, but that’s how I see it.
  • My plan is to keep the memory of this health system in my mind to help me set up a mobile clinic in Los Angeles, to provide services such as HIV testing, immunization, and scanning for diabetes, with a new spin: accessible to everybody.

Keasha Guerrier, Long Island, New York

  • I’ve passed all my USMLE steps; I want to become a family practitioner in the Deep South, in the Mississippi Delta region.
  • In Cuba, I learned perseverance and dedication. It was a long, hard road sometimes but the end result is our degree that allows us to serve almost anywhere in the world, and have an impact on communities that need help.
  • Before I do anything else, I’m going to Haiti for a few months to work with the Cuban doctors there—my father is Haitian. I had wanted to go as a student, but they asked me to wait until I’d graduated—and so now I’ve graduated, I have my degree, and that’s where I’m headed.

Photos: Eduado Añé