Thoughts and insights from medical students
Medical Education in Cuba
Many persons chose and continue to choose to pursue their dreams in this noble profession, the art and science of medicine, but change their minds at some stage. For many of them, it’s because they, their families and/or communities cannot afford to put them through medical school. That would have been my fate, and for many others I met later if the Cuban nation hadn’t come to our aid, granting me a full scholarship, through cooperation with my own country (Republic of Ghana) to pursue the Doctor en Medicina degree (equivalent to M.B. Ch.B. in most English speaking countries).
The island comes equipped with 15 provinces, each having at least one medical university (or a faculty). Most foreign students start their program at Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (Latin American School of Medicine), in Havana, the capital of Cuba, where they receive lessons in Spanish language (for those who don’t speak it as a first language). Then, the basic medical sciences for two years.
Having completed basic sciences, students are distributed to the other medical universities in the other provinces where they continue their medical education: three years of clinical rotations and one year of internship leading to state exams for the award of a degree and a medical license. At all levels of the program, textbooks are provided to each student by the university for the duration of that rotation. All school activities are compulsory and form part of the general evaluation of each student, way of training integral general practitioners. Accommodation and food are also provided for the student free of charge. The aim of this training is to produce doctors who will attend to others without expecting anything (especially material) in return, except for the well-being of the patient. Health care is a fundamental human right and must be safeguarded for all by all.
In the basic science years, apart from the traditional subjects studied in medical schools the world over, Community Medicine is studied here. Its aim is to let the students have contact with patients right from day one, and to practice interviewing and examining patients in a consultorio médico de la familia (Surgery as called in the U.K.; a primary health care facility). Each clinical rotation includes a few weeks in the primary health care with the aim of providing the student with the opportunity to learn proactive measures in disease prevention in relation to that specialty.
The first semester of the third year is dedicated to teaching the student how to conduct an interview, physical examination of the patient, history taking and medical semiology. The second semester of the third year is for internal medicine. During each rotation, the student is taught by the hands-on training approach: 4 hours of working in the hospital wards or A&E under supervision in the mornings and a couple of hours of theory in the classrooms in the afternoons.
Fourth year comes with rotations in surgery, pediatrics and gyaenacology & obstetrics. Fifth years is loaded with Psychiatry, Public Health, Orthopedic surgery & traumatology, Ophthalmology, E & T, Urology, Disaster medicine and Integral General Medicine (the major of the degree).
The greatest of all the opportunities we get here as medical students is the chance to practice with people, of course with their permission. More often than not, the patients are willing to allow us to acquire some knowledge with their conditions. Practice the say makes perfect. Upon graduation, the young general practitioner has been exposed to a lot of real life experiences giving him confidence in his abilities to face the world; to help others prevent disease and treat them where necessary.
3rd year Medical Student,
Universidad de Ciencias Médicas “Dr. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna”
Pinar del Rio, Cuba.