Massive Graduation of Doctors in Cuba

By Elio Delgado Legón (Fotos: Elio Delgado Valdes)

elio1HAVANA TIMES — Last week, I attended the last graduation of medical doctors to be held in Cuba this year. It was indeed a marvellous privilege to see the over one thousand new physicians.

Of the graduates, 735 were from around the world (including 58 from China and eight from the United States), students from poor families who would have been unable to afford paying for this university career in their countries.

It is indeed reassuring to know that this white-coated army, now swelling the ranks of those who look alter the health of our people and the peoples of more than 70 countries scattered across the globe, did not have to pay a cent for the high-quality scientific and humanistic education they received.

According to the figures that were made public during the ceremony, a total of 10,526 students graduated from medical school across the country this year. If we count those who have completed their studies in all health fields (dentists, psychologists, nurses, technicians, physiotherapists and others), the number goes up to 29,712. Of that total, 5,020 were foreign students who received scholarships, in view of the fact they were unable to afford these studies in their country of origin.

Elio3This may seem like a high number of students for a country as small as Cuba, but, in fact, it isn’t. The demand for medical doctors around the world is immense, and Cuba is not given to thinking exclusively and egotistically about its own needs.

Today, millions of children around the world continue to die as a result of illnesses that could be prevented with a simple vaccine, and millions of others perish due to a lack of proper medical attention.

Cuba contracts its services to those countries that have the means to pay for them. However, it also offers these same services to poor countries free of charge as a gesture of solidarity. Haiti is an important case in point.

Cuba has taken in students from small countries in the Caribbean and trained them as medical doctors, nurses and other health personnel free of charge, so that they may offer the medical services their populations require.

elio2While watching the graduation ceremony, listening to the words of gratitude of a number of foreign students, and seeing the commitment assumed by Cuban graduates, I thought that, even if the revolution that triumphed in Cuba on January 1st, 1959 had not done all of the things it can proudly point to today, even if it had limited itself to doing what it has done in the field of education and health, even then, all of our sacrifices over these long years of struggle would have been worth it.

There will always be those who look to the sun and see, rather than light, only its spots. We know our revolution isn’t perfect, as no human undertaking is perfect. But, what the Cuban revolution has done, continues to do and will do for the poor of the earth is enough for us to feel proud to be Cuban and revolutionaries.

We can add to this the almost unheard-of fact that all the young people who graduate from Cuban universities today have the guarantee of a job in the country, something which contrasts rather starkly with the situation of unemployment faced by young people nearly everywhere around the world.

Finally, to reply to those who continue to complain about Cuba’s next to inexistent racism, allow me to refer to the following fact: sixty percent of the students who participated at the graduation ceremony I attended are either black or mixed race, and the immense majority of the patients who receive medical attention from Cuban doctors in over 70 countries around the world are not white.

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16 thoughts on “Massive Graduation of Doctors in Cuba

  • August 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm
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    Cuban doctors are trained like nurses by brazilian standards. Cuba has its doctors in 67 countries around the world. cuban hospitals are literally colapsing. Water leaks from the roof, rodents, lack of beds and lack of doctors. Yes, Cuban hospitals dont have enough doctors.

  • August 18, 2013 at 1:13 am
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    Lived in Cuba for several years. Married to a Cuban. US medicine isn’t perfect but to say we could learn from Cuban medicine is like saying the New York Yankees could learn to play baseball from Little Leaguers. The lack of advanced medical technology, medical supplies, and the latest diagnostic practices can not be made up by educated guessing. Still, if you or a loved one need an organ transplant or a triple bypass, go ahead and take your chances with an underpaid, overworked, and inadequately equipped Cuban doctor. I choose Johns Hopkins.

  • August 17, 2013 at 9:41 am
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    Moses you seem to have the intellectual myopia which accompanies many people from the United States disillusioned by a false sense of their own superiority. Having just visited Cuba (have you even been there?) and spoken to many Cubans I can tell you that the island does not have third world care. There are many things that medical schools in the states can learn from Cuba. For example, how to actually teach clinical medicine so that doctors aren’t ‘slaves’ to the medical-pharma-medical technology industrial complex which is so pervasive in the United States. How to work with the most marginal and poorest patients in some of the most difficult circumstances. I wouldn’t call this ‘lowball’ medical education producing ‘third world underqualified doctors’. I would call this would medical education was meant to be. I would suggest you check your own unfounded, and quite frankly patently false, assumptions about medical education outside of the US.

  • August 6, 2013 at 9:46 am
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    Most will be quite able to do so — pass the boards. Some already practice in the USA. The obstacle for these youngsters exists only in Florida, where for obvious reasons the state will not recognize their degree, but this has nothing to do with quality control. In other states, no problem.

  • August 1, 2013 at 2:18 pm
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    dont say that medicine in cuba in not advanced, obviously, you have not been into a hospital, or your just a cuban that dont agree with anything, most likely you are the second option.

  • July 31, 2013 at 9:40 pm
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    Graham, I disagree. While you may be as good as it gets in Cuba, the things you could teach a 4th year med student here at UC San Francisco are techniques and methodologies that are obsolete and likely no longer approved in modern medicine. On the other hand, the guys who wrote the updates to the medical textbooks that you have to share with other students at ELAM are the professors teaching at UCSF. If your knowledge were on par with your counterparts here in the US, you would not need to go to school two more years before you could sit for your boards in the US. When you decided to lowball your medical education by going to school in Cuba, you also decided to become a third world underqualified doctor. Sorry dude.

  • July 31, 2013 at 9:27 pm
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    AC, my best friend in Cuba is a surgeon and this is what he says about health care in Cuba: Cuban doctors, lacking the latest advances in medical testing analyses, diagnose based on experience. Also, lacking the numbing fear of malpractice lawsuits, they are free to make educated guesses. When they get it wrong, the patient suffers and they get it wrong more often than not. Bad diagnoses are then blamed on the lack of medicine, broken or unavailable equipment, the embargo, and everything else but the lack of medical training.

  • July 31, 2013 at 4:02 pm
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    I like to comment on this

    “did not have to pay a cent for the high-quality scientific and humanistic education they received.”

    These new doctors will be paid less than 20 dollars a month until they retire and when they do they will earn less than 10 dollars a month. In only one year of such salary they will be able to pay their studies not only in Cuba but in any mayor university if they were paid a comparable salary.

    They will be use as slave in exchange for goods like the barter stablished with the venezuelan government exchanging doctors for oil.

    They will also work as virtual slaves for the rest of their useful life also If they like to migrate they will be punish for years before they are allow to leave. If they migrate by staying while on mission the cuban government will punish them also for several years (If I remember correctly 6 or 7 years) not allowing them to re enter Cuba for that period of time.

    If they start speaking their mind they will be separated from the cuban health system and if by any chance they try to complain about their low salaries and claim their legal right to a just pay they will be punish severely like it happen to Dr Jeovany Jimenez who was punished for writing a letter to the health ministry (complaining about low salaries) and was separated from the work force and not allow to practice medicine. Only after a hunger strike of many days years later his case gained some international notoriety and therefore was solved by allowing him again to work as a doctor.

    Here is a link to his blog

    http://citizenzerocuba.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/dr-jeovany-jimenez-vega-declares-hunger-strike/

    incidentally he was a member of the PCC (Cuban communist party).

  • July 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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    Sure, but in conditions where the latest advanced of medicine are not available, a Cuban doctor will almost certainly outperform a doctor from almost anywhere else. Thats precisely the reason why they are well suited to work in poor countries and disaster recovery.

    They are not poorly trained by any meaning of the word; their country lacks the resources to acquire the latest medical equipment and drugs, and lacking the equipment they can’t be trained in that technology. Thats a fact that anyone sane can’t dispute, but because of the specifics of Cuban society by the time they graduated they already have plenty of hand of experience dealing with real patients and are comparatively more competent out of school.

    Medical students in litigious-happy countries simply can’t compete in that regard.

  • July 31, 2013 at 1:30 pm
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    Also a med student in Cuba. I´d go head to head with any student from any other school in the world also entering 4th year of their education. I´m sure we would both be able to teach each other something we didn´t already know. Great article, love the optimism, and I really do hope that everyone who graduate ELAM helps make health care more equitable.

  • July 31, 2013 at 7:32 am
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    When the choice is between no doctor at all or a Cuban doctor, I’ll take the Cuban doctor. I should add however, that I would take a Boy Scout with a merit badge in that situation as well. These newly-minted “doctors” fill a niche among the world’s poor and underserved. We should be careful to not let our enthusiasm for Castro’s medical indentured servants be confused with the furtherance of the medical profession. Cuban doctors simply do not have the training nor the resources to advance the science of medicine.

  • July 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm
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    Having accessed the Cubano Medical system on one of our vacations, I have the greatest regard for those who do some much with so little equipment. We continue to spend our annual winter vacations in Cuba, which allows us to escape the snowy Alberta, Canada weather.

  • July 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm
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    I am a medical student studying in Cuba and i can proudly say that Cuba teaches you critical thinking because the moment you are in your first year of med school, you enter the policlinic…unlike the states where you have to wait 3 years to see a patient…proud of the graduates. Hope you guys show the world that medical students from Cuba will take over the medical industry 😉

  • July 29, 2013 at 7:26 pm
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    Thanks for a positive and rational article. You even “admit” Cuba isn’t perfect, yet point out that such unusual contributions as bringing medical education and doctors to millions of people who wouldn’t have any, is itself justification for the revolution.

    The critics will as usual, look for some irrelevancy and negative distortion such as saying doctors graduated in Cuba will have to work to pass exams and be certified in their home countries. I hope so! Doctors interested in their patients should never cease learning being guided by the collaboration and review of their peers. We have lots of medical personnel in the US who make millions, but also make mistakes that are covered up because there is too much emphasis on money and authority.

    So again, thanks Elio Delgado Legón for this inspiring article.

    (Small translation typo I think. You wrote “even if the revolution that triumphed in Cuba on January 1st, 1959 had done all of the things it can proudly point to today,” I think you meant to say “had not done…”

  • July 29, 2013 at 12:04 pm
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    A pity that these doctors won’t be accredited without extra education in lots of countries.
    Even worse: the Cubans will be rented out as indentured labor.

  • July 29, 2013 at 11:39 am
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    So how many of these newly minted “doctors” will be able to pass the medical board licensing exams of any country other than Cuba? How many of the 8 graduates from the US will be able to work as doctors in the US?

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