Cuban medical school students visit home
DETROIT — Three Detroit medical students are continuing their education on a free scholarship to what could be considered the most unrecognized medical school in the western hemisphere — the Latin American School of Medicine (LASM) in Havana, Cuba.
The students — Samantha Moore, Ese Agari and Alicia Steele — joined members of the organization who support the program, Pastors for Peace, July 8 for an informational session on LASM at University of Michigan’s Detroit Center. They also commemorated the 22nd Peace Caravan, which will pick up two Detroiters on its way to deliver humanitarian aid to the U.S.-blockaded nation of Cuba.
Moore is home for the remainder of the summer after completing her second year of medical school in Cuba. The Cass Technical High School graduate is fast becoming accustomed to local foods, saying with a smile that meals are always served with black beans and rice. But she’s also digesting the medical school’s commitment to administering quality medical care in poverty-stricken areas of the world.
“It’s understood before you even go down there that you are returning to your community to serve,” Moore told the Michigan Citizen. “It’s mostly been about sacrifice and dedication.”
Moore found out about the Cuban scholarship program while attending the University of Detroit Mercy as a computer science major. After completing science requirements at Wayne County Community College, she was accepted into the Latin American School of Medicine in 2008. She says despite the international flavor, she hopes to practice internal medicine back in Detroit when she graduates in four years.
“We’re away from city life for the first year, to get acclimated,” Moore says about the LASM campus. “At the same time, the school is so integrated — you live with people from all over the world. You have classes with students from over 60 other countries.”
David Sole, a member of MECAWI (Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice), was Moore’s chemistry instructor at WCCCD and provided a letter of recommendation for her medical school application. He says she was an exemplary student and is not surprised she was able to make the transition to studying within an entirely new culture.
“I’m excited that she’s back here, and that she’s excited about the program,” Sole said.
In 1999 the Latin American School of Medicine opened by accepting students from low-income communities with limited access to medical education. Approximately 1,500 new students are admitted each year from 49 different nations of Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the United States. Cuban President Fidel Castro acknowledged Americans’ lack of access to free health care by offering scholarships to American citizens during a speech at New York City’s Riverside Church in 2000.
IFCO (the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization)/Pastors for Peace was chosen to administer the program in the United States due to its history of delivering humanitarian aid to Cuban citizens, despite the ongoing U.S. blockade. IFCO’s founder, Reverend Lucius Walker, died in 2010.
Current IFCO co-director, Ellen Bernstein, told the Michigan Citizen that the Latin American School of Medicine is designed for students who envision “a more just health care model.”
“This is a scholarship program that is offered to students committed to providing primary care in underserved communities,” Bernstein said. “Right away, students see a system that is both proactive and preventative.”
The success of Cuba’s medical system has spawned an army of medical professionals.
In Cuba itself, there is one doctor for every 70 families, according to Bernstein. There were 350 Cuban doctors operating in Haiti before the earthquake hit in February 2010. Over 1,000 Cuban and Cuban-trained doctors responded to the humanitarian disaster spawned by the quake, including 12 Americans. Worldwide, a reported 30,000 LASM graduates are practicing medicine in 70 countries as part of its South-to-South program.
“The Cuban doctors are known for going to hard-hit areas across the globe,” Bernstein says. “It’s part of their training.”
For more information about LASM, visit www.ifconews.org/MedicalSchool.