Opportunities to Attend Medical School Free in Cuba

Training is free, but graduates must commit to return home and practice medicine in underserved communities

By Nikolas Zelinski

Representatives were recruiting for the Latin American School of Medicine, or Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in East Oakland this past weekend, offering students between the ages of 18-24 a chance to study medicine in Cuba without charge.

U.S. graduates of medical school in Cuba.  Photo Courtesy Associated Press.

U.S. graduates of medical school in Cuba. Photo Courtesy Associated Press.

This is good news for potential medical students, as average tuition for medical schools in the US range from $31,000 to $52,000 per year.

To raise awareness about the medical school program and other medical careers options, Oakland’s Purple Heart Patient Center sponsored the meeting at Youth Uprising in East Oakland on Saturday.

Kim Scott of the Bay Area Black Nurses Association spoke about different nursing opportunities that are available right here at home. Scott urged attendees to end health disparity and said, “Health care providers should reflect the community.”

According to Scott, whites and Asians in recent statistics made up 85.8 percent of the Registered Nurse workforce in California in 2004. Latinos make up 32.5 percent of the California population, yet only account for 6.3 percent of the RN workforce.

African Americans compose 6.5 percent of total population and 3.8 percent of RNs, said Scott.

Dr. Melissa Barber, program coordinator of the Interreligious Foundation of Community Organization, described the ELAM campus in Cuba – the lifestyle, and educational standards.

To best sum up her experience, Barber said, “80 percent of going to school in Cuba was about self-discovery, and 20 percent studying medicine.”

In an interview with the Post, Oakland native and ELAM graduate Maiti Rodriguez said she agrees with the sentiment.

Much of the experience centered on overcoming the language barrier and getting used to living conditions. Rodriguez did not speak Spanish before going to Cuba but quickly learned.

She graduated last July and has taken all US medical licensing exams and has applied for residencies all across the western US.

Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba.

Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba.

Rodriguez said she would love to work in Oakland if possible, and added, “I’m interested in working with Spanish speaking populations and underserved populations; but that does not exist just here in Oakland, it exists all over California, and in other states. And I feel the need for doctors who are bilingual, willing to work with underserved population, and culturally sensitive are necessary everywhere.”

Rodriguez continued, “So as much as I would love to be home, I would go anywhere I was accepted and needed.”

The ELAM medical school grew out of the Cuban government response to devastation left in the wake of hurricanes Mitch and George in 1998.

Cuba’s leaders realized that if the poorest regions in the hemisphere were able to develop adequate healthcare infrastructures, they could save as many lives every year as had been lost in the hurricanes.

The Cubans offered full scholarships to enroll at ELAM to young people from the nations affected by the hurricanes – on the sole condition that, once they graduated, they would return to their home countries and offer low-cost health services in their own underserved communities.

In 2001, the first US students were able to attend under the scholarship, as long as they committed to return home and practice medicine in underserved communities.

According to supporters of the program, the offer to US students was made because of Cuba’s recognition that millions in the US have little or no access to affordable health care and that many young people in the U.S. cannot study medicine because of the expense.

Students from communities of color and low-income communities are especially encouraged to apply to the program.

Enrollment dates for ELAM began Sept. 30t and continues through the middle of March 2015. For more information, visit http://instituciones.sld.cu/elam/ or ifconews.org. For more about the Bay Area Black Nurses Association Inc., visit babna.org.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 21, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)