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U.S. Rep. (MS) Bennie Thompson promotes Cuba med program

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Mika Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-26-08 03:18 PM
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U.S. Rep. (MS) Bennie Thompson promotes Cuba med program
Thompson promotes Cuba med program

You can go to medical school for free.

The hitch?

You have to be between 18 and 30 years of age, become fluent in Spanish and willing to earn your medical degree in Cuba.

The invitation for U.S. students to earn a free medical education in Cuba dates to 2000, when 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus visited the island nation 90 miles south of Miami. Then-President Fidel Castro talked about his country's work in providing free medical educations to those willing to serve in medically needy areas across the world.

Given that areas in the U.S. are medically underserved, Castro opened the doors of the program to 500 U.S. students who began enrolling two years later.

"The advantage is that you graduate a bilingual doctor and there are so many communities in the United States where this is such an important (asset)," said Ellen Bernstein, associate director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, the New York-based group that helps screen applicants for the program.

Nine U.S. students have graduated and 105 are enrolled in the six-year program now. None is from Mississippi, where the state Health Department's Policy and Planning Office says every county in the state is medically underserved to some degree.

Hoping to entice a few students from the Magnolia State, Thompson will be in Itta Bena Saturday hosting A Dream of A Lifetime Conference, which will educate high school and college students about going to the Latin American School of Medical Sciences in Cuba. Previous recruiting efforts in Mississippi consisted of sending mailings to schools, Thompson said.

The U.S. maintains a trade embargo that prevents selling certain products to Cuba, and relations between the two governments remain icy, but the free medical education is unaffected by the countries' political relations, Thompson said.

The Association of American Medical Colleges earlier this year estimated the medical class of 2007 has an average student loan debt of more than $139,000, including undergraduate years. That student loan payment equates to more than $2,000 a month with a 6.8 percent interest rate.

"Here's an opportunity to get a degree and start off not owing anyone," Thompson said.

At Saturday's program, potential students will hear from two U.S. students enrolled at the Cuban medical school: Keasha Guerrier, a 23-year-old from Long Island, New York, and Akua Brown, a 32-year-old from San Francisco. The women, who just completed their third year of medical school, are working with Dr. Luke Lampton, a Magnolia family practice physician who also is chairman of the state Board of Health.

"Their clinical knowledge is comparable to the United States' medical students at this stage," Lampton said. "What impresses me most about these students is their courage and their boldness in trying to study medicine in a foreign language. Medical school is hard enough if you don't have to take classes in Spanish."

Brown and Guerrier speak very highly of the program they learned about on National Public Radio, but they've had to make some adjustments. Both natives of metropolitan areas, they were not used to life without plentiful public transportation, stores that don't have extended hours and not being able to buy fruits and vegetables outside their natural growing seasons.

"It's a wonderful experience and a God-sent opportunity to be able to study medicine without having to pay, but be prepared to give up a lot of comforts of home, (such as) communicating with your family," Brown said.

Calls to the U.S. can exceed $2 a minute, the students said.

The program provides books, school supplies, uniforms, food, housing and a monthly stipend of 100 Cuban pesos, about $4 U.S.

"It's really just the going back and forth (home) that's a problem,"Brown said. She has had to rely on her family's financial assistance.

"At 32, it's hard to accept help from mom again," Brown said. She has depleted her savings since starting the program and has spent around $700 for a round trip ticket home to California.

In addition to being younger than 30 when they apply, students also must have done well in college-level biology, chemistry and physics classes and intend to practice in a poor or medically underserved area in the U.S. after graduation. Students don't have to take the Medical College Admission Test, a standard requirement to attend a U.S. medical school. And Bernstein said they don't need a bachelor's degree, although many who apply have one.

Those who need it learn Spanish when they get there, which can add a year to the program.

"A number of students come in without any Spanish at all," said Bernstein, who acknowledges learning the language has been a challenge for some.

There are some in the U.S. who long have questioned the quality of foreign medical schools outside western Europe. Like other students, the Cuban medical graduates prove their academic prowess by by passing the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam, a test both foreign and U.S. students must pass in order to practice in the U.S.


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Judi Lynn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-26-08 03:47 PM
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1. So glad to hear they went to look at this, aren't you, Mika?
I remember the first year they started taking students from the U.S. WONDERFUL. Revolutionary idea, isn't it, looking after the well-being of the people who need help so badly? Making a committment to look out for them FIRST, rather than one's own material wealth?

Hope to hear more from this official opening to a higher, better way of dealing with people. Very timely, very appropriate.

Rep. Bennie Thompson's in the middle.
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roody Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-27-08 01:13 AM
Response to Original message
2. Those damn commies!!
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