Representatives were recruiting for the Latin American School of Medicine, or Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) in East Oakland this past weekend, offering students between the ages of 18-24 a chance to study medicine in Cuba without charge.
This is good news for potential medical students, as average tuition for medical school in the US ranges from $31,000 to $52,000 per year.
To raise awareness about the medical school program and other medical careers options, Oakland’s Purple Heart Patient Center sponsored that seminar at Youth Uprising in East Oakland on Saturday.
Kim Scott of the Bay Area Black Nurses Association spoke about different nursing opportunities that are available right here
at home. Scott urged attendees to end health disparity and said, “Health care providers should reflect the community.”
According to Scott, whites and Asians in recent statistics made up 85.8 percent of the Registered Nurse workforce in California in 2004. Latino made up 32.5 percent of the California population, yet only accounted for 6.3 percent of the RN workforce.
African Americans composed 6.5 percent of total population, and 3.8 percent of RNs, said Scott.
Dr. Melissa Barber, program coordinator of the Interreligious Foundation of Community Organization, described the ELAM campus in Cuba – the lifestyle, and educational standards.
To best sum up her experience, Barber said, “80 percent of going to school in Cuba was about self-discovery, and 20 percent studying medicine.”
In an interview with the Post, Oakland native and ELAM graduate Maiti Rodriguez said she agrees with the sentiment.
Much of the experience centered on becoming accustomed to the language barrier and living conditions. Rodriguez did not speak Spanish before going to Cuba but quickly learned.
She graduated last July and has taken all US medical licensing exams and has applied for residencies all across the western US.
Rodriguez said she would love to work in Oakland if possible, and added, “I’m interested in working with Spanish speaking populations and underserved populations; but that does not exist just here in Oakland, it exists all over California, and in other states. And I feel the need for doctors who are bilingual, willing to work with underserved population, and culturally sensitive are necessary everywhere.”
Rodriguez goes on, “So as much as I would love to be home, I would go anywhere I was accepted and needed.”
The school grew out of Cuban government response to devastation brought on by hurricanes Mitch and George in 1998.
Cuba’s leaders realized that if the poorest regions in the hemisphere were able to develop adequate healthcare infrastructures, they could save as many lives every year as had been lost in the hurricanes.
The Cubans offered full scholarships to enroll at LASM to young people from the nations affected by the hurricanes – on the sole condition that, once they graduated, they would return to their home countries and offer low-cost health services in their own underserved communities.
In 2001 the first US students were able to attend under the scholarship, as long as the promise to return home and practice medicine in underserved communities was maintained.
According to supporters of the program, the offer to US students was made because of Cuba’s recognition that millions in the US have little or no access to affordable health care and that many young people in the U.S. cannot study medicine because of the economic costs.
Students from communities of color and low-income communities are especially encouraged to apply to the program.
Enrollment dates for ELAM began Sept. 30th and continue through the middle of March 2015. For more information, visit http://instituciones.sld.cu/elam/ or ifconews.org. For more about the Bay Area Black Nurses Association Inc., visit babna.org.