Granma: Becoming a Doctor on Isla de la Juventud, Cuba



1 November, 2007

Becoming a Doctor on Isla de la Juventud

Leticia MartInez HernAndez AND Yordanka Almaguer (PHotos)

Luis Fernando Salazar came to the Isla de la Juventud, the largest
island off of Cuba, over a year ago. He left relatives and friends
behind in his beloved Bolivia to come to Cuba to study Medicine.
Saying farewell to his homeland and arriving to an unknown country
with worries over his course load made him pretty nervous at first.
Even so, he did not hesitated to commit to the six years it will take
to finish his career; determined only to return to Cochabamba donned
in a white doctor’s coat.

“Back home I worked during the day and went to night school, but
studies were too expensive for me and my parents. Bolivian friends
who have graduated here told me about the doctors’ training program.
Now, one of my most important objectives is to become general
physician. I know Bolivia and other Latin American countries need
doctors very badly, and it’s up to us to satisfy this demand.”


Luis Fernando is one of the more than 1,600 young students now
studying Medicine on the Cuban island of Isla de la Juventud, as part
of the New Medical Training Program created in the framework of the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Coming from
Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Colombia and East Timor,
students occupy five medical faculties, scattered all over this municipality.


After finishing pre-medicine course, where they receive classes in
Spanish, Math, Chemistry, History and other basic subjects, the
students begin their career. This year’s syllabus has incorporated
new changes and students now study Human Morpho-physiology, a subject
that is part of the basic sciences of the first years of the medical
career, along with Social Medicine, which familiarizes them with
primary healthcare.

Students are assigned a family in the nearby community, to which they
offer their services four hours a week, together with a professor.
More than a requirement of the program, these visits are satisfying
for these students, who, far away from their loved ones, enjoy in
these houses a family atmosphere.

Anita and Gabriel wait for Luis Fernando every Wednesday, the day he
regularly visits their family. He has the duty and pleasure of
looking after his “grandma and grandpa,” as he affectionately calls
the 81 and 62-year-old couple. “They need my services and they are
very happy when they see me. I’m always monitoring their blood
pressure and giving them periodic checkups.”

Cuban doctors throughout the country consider teaching as part of
their internationalist missions. Their experience is a fundamental
pillar in the training of new professionals, in whom they foster
values like humanism and solidarity. “Cuban professors are very good.
We see them as our parents, and to say goodbye to them is very hard,”
says Luis Fernando.


The Jose Maceo Grajales Faculty of Medical Sciences was one of the
first to be created on the Isla de la Juventud. With some 408 young
students from Bolivia, East Timor, Colombia and Venezuela, it
concluded the first academic year with a 100 percent graduation. At
present, it’s in the process of being turned into a faculty and a
policlinic where, besides acting as a school, will offer medical
services to patients, including ultrasounds, electrocardiograms and dentistry.

“This place has become a home for these kids,” says Dr. Yamarys
Hernandez Alonso, the center’s vice dean and a teacher. “Here they
have a Monday through Saturday school schedule. On weekends, they
usually participate in recreational activities and practice sports.
They have all the material resources they need to study; a computer
for every two students, digital bibliographies and a Web site where
they can update themselves on what’s going on in their respective countries.”

Students are frequently found studying in classrooms, halls, or
sitting in the shade of a tree. “On Mondays, we have oral, written
and practical tests, by way of which we are tested on the subjects
given during the week”, comments Luis Fernando.

Dormitories impress visitors for their cleanliness and unique
decorations. There are eight students per bedroom, each of which has
4 bunks. Telephones, TVs and other comforts are found in their study
room. The faculty also offers them simple services including a
shoemaker, tailor, hairdresser, barber, manicurist and post office.
Visitors are also impressed by the sculpture of Che Guevara the
students made with stones.

Thus, between study and other activities, days go by at the Jose
Maceo Grajales.

The presence of these soon-to-be doctors on the streets of Gerona or
other remote towns on the island is normal for locals, who still
remember how during the 1980’s, for the first time the island
welcomed more than 20,000 foreign students from 37 nations.

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