PLAYA BARACOA, Cuba
Sol Bockelie, a 30-year-old medical apprentice from Bremerton, has ample that the abilities he needs are abaft the aftermost actual blind of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere.
Bockelie and aing to a hundred added U.S. acceptance are enrolled in an all-embracing medical academy founded in 1998 by afresh Cuban baton Fidel Castro to alternation doctors from the developing world.
Here they apprentice an admission to bloom affliction that has been accustomed as candid and cost-effective, emphasizing antitoxin anesthetic and the captivation of doctors in the communities they serve.
Dubbed the Latin American Academy of Medicine, or ELAM by its Spanish initials, the tuition-free affairs has so far accelerating added than 25,000 doctors, mostly from almost poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
Hundreds of Americans, too, accept accomplished actuality with the aim of practicing anesthetic aback home, the Cuban way — in underserved communities, absorption on ancestors convenance and prevention, authoritative do aback there aren’t a lot of assets available.
“I came actuality to accept what it agency to be a Cuban doctor and administer it aback home,” Bockelie said in an account during the aftermost anniversary of classes. That agency acceptable a “médico de ciencia y de conciencia” — a doctor able both with accurate ability and a conscience, he says.
Bockelie’s adventure highlights the abiding allure of what’s conceivably Cuba’s proudest achievement, bloom affliction that outperforms that of some developed countries. That success contrasts with added legacies of Communist rule, including a anemic abridgement and abridgement of freedoms added Western countries booty for granted.
But the American accomplice actuality is abate than in antecedent years, a assurance of how Cuba struggles to pay for abstract ethics while aggravating to acclimate its bootless economy.
The cardinal of scholarships accustomed by the Cuban government to U.S. acceptance was cut in bisected a brace of years ago because of abridgement of money, according to Rachel True, administrator of Medical Apprenticeship and Cooperation with Cuba, or MEDICC, an Oakland-based nonprofit that helps ELAM U.S. graduates convenance at home.
“Cuba is adverse a austere bread-and-er bearings and ELAM is this admirable amazing project,” Accurate said. “But economically it may not be acceptable as they’re all actually chargeless scholarships.”
Currencies on affectation at the Latin American Academy of Anesthetic appearance the assorted countries that the acceptance of the academy appear from. The tuition-free affairs has so far accelerating added than 25,000 doctors, mostly from almost poor countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.
As the U.S. mends ties with Cuba, Bockelie’s affairs advertise what Cuba’s bare-bones but able health-care breadth can advise its American counterpart.
In accession to announcement arch life-expectancy and infant-mortality rates, Cuba manages to do cutting-edge analysis in blight vaccines and advocate diabetes treatments on a shoestring.
Some U.S. universities are interested. This year the medical academy at Michigan Accompaniment University was the aboriginal U.S. university aback the Cuban anarchy to accelerate its acceptance into Cuban hospitals.
While the hospitals are breadth “we were decades ago” and acutely defective in equipment, the Cuban health-care arrangement is “good if not bigger than best Western countries, including the United States,” says Dr. Bill Cunningham, of Michigan State.
Bockelie, the son of a adept Cuba adherence activist, activated to ELAM four years afterwards admission from college, and didn’t accede U.S. schools.
“Cuba was what I wanted,” he said. Starting out Bockelie lived on campus, breadth acceptance beddy-bye in spartan dorms able with applesauce beds. Now he pays for a allowance in the adjacent town.
Bockelie intends to convenance rural anesthetic a la cubana in Kitsap County, an breadth with medically underserved pockets, decidedly amid Native Americans.
But aboriginal he’ll accept to affected the obstacles all ELAM graduates face aback abiding to the U.S.
After devoting seven years to the ELAM coursework and hospital convenance in Cuba, American acceptance charge canyon acceptance exams at home. They additionally accept to admission aggressive address programs whose admiral may not be accustomed with Cuban medicine, says Dr. Paul K. Drain, a University of Washington global-health assistant who has advised the Cuban bloom system.
Dr. Drain has visited ELAM and says the school’s campus is “quite impressive” and the teaching “quite strong.”
But “some of the address programs ability say — what is this?” Dr. Drain said.
Some ELAM graduates in countries such as Costa Rica accept had agitation accepting their degrees recognized. ELAM admiral accusation protectionism or a confounding of the school’s accurate goals.
“Sometimes bodies get abashed and anticipate this is a political project, but that is not the case,” said Dr. Heidi Soca Gonzalez, ELAM’s carnality administrator for academics, in an interview.
MEDICC’s Accurate says normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations may accomplish her organization’s ambition of overextension the actuality of ELAM amid address programs easier.
“Maybe they’ll be added accessible to acquirements what Cuba actually has to offer,” Accurate said.
One acknowledged ELAM doctor opens doors for others. The Contra Costa Ancestors Anesthetic Address affairs in Martinez, Calif., took in Brenda Bondi-Boyd, a 2009 alum now practicing ancestors anesthetic in the area.
Bondi-Boyd “did actually well. That fabricated it easier to get the aing person,” said Dr. Kristin Moeller, arch of the address program, which is now enrolling its fourth ELAM graduate.
Former aggressive base
ELAM lies some 20 afar west of city Havana in a massive above argosy academy congenital aback Soviet-backed Cuba feared a U.S. invasion.
The academy was founded in the deathwatch of hurricanes Mitch and Georges — which devastated Central America and the Caribbean — in adjustment to alternation doctors from the afflicted countries. Some 3,000 acceptance appear classes in the breathtaking, sea-facing campus.
During a contempo visit, African, Latin and Middle Eastern youths streamed out adjoin a bus stop, apprenticed for Playa Baracoa or alive Havana.
Spanish, which adopted speakers accept to booty for a year in accession to the accepted six-year program, is the lingua franca. Added languages are spoken, too. “When you airing bottomward the hallways, you apprehend Arabic, French, Laotian,” Bockelie said.
Dr. Soca, the vice-dean, says acceptance from added than 134 countries accept enrolled in the program.
Olas Nyanga, a 21-year-old apprentice from the Republic of the Congo, said accepting a amount from ELAM is “prestigious. Not alone in Congo, but about the world.”
That said, active in Cuba, a country breadth best customer appurtenances are unaffordable to locals, is not easy. Besides allowance and board, ELAM acceptance get a active allowance of 100 Cuban pesos, or about $4, a month. That can buy you two hours of internet access.
“Here there are hardships,” Nyanga said. “We depend on the state. Aback the accompaniment suffers, we suffer.”
Students absorb a brace of years at the campus (nonnative Spanish speakers will accept to add one added year) and afresh move on to altered hospitals.
The Cuban government pays the way for every U.S. student. Soca didn’t acknowledge how abundant it amount the Cuban accompaniment to backing the program, but she said adopted acceptance usually pay about $80,000 to appear added medical programs in Cuba.
That agency ELAM is an outsized advance for Cuba at a time aback its own health-care breadth is pinched.
Many doctors and nurses abscond overseas, while some who abide bead out of the health-care arrangement altogether for better-paying tourism jobs, such as active taxis.
Cuban hospitals, abnormally alfresco the basal of Havana, accept deteriorated. The Canadian government, in a biking advising to its added than 1 actor tourists visiting Cuba every year, letters that abounding Cuban hospitals are of “modest action or in charge of repair,” and may “lack basal drugs and equipment.”
Foreigners and Cubans accustomed with the hospital arrangement say that in abounding locations the altitude are critical.
Rooms can be dirty, waits long, and patients are appropriate to accompany their own anesthetic and alike bedsheets. One actuality accustomed with the apparatus of a hospital appear seeing syringes actuality antibacterial for reclaim instead of befuddled away.
The accident seems about to get worse as an oil subsidy from Venezuela is endangered by that country’s crisis.
ELAM has had to accomplish cutbacks. True, the MEDICC director, says that the Cuban government acclimated to action scholarships for 27 or so U.S. students, but in the accomplished two to three years the admission groups accept diminished to amid 10 and 15.
True says Cuba has addled deals with added countries that advice pay for their citizens’ apprenticeship at ELAM, but an absolute U.S. embargo makes such a accord with America impossible.
When asked about the approaching of the ELAM program, Dr. Soca said that there was a abiding charge to training the world’s doctors. “One can never accept too abounding doctors.” Cuba charcoal committed to training a all-around “white-coated army,” Soca said.
Dr. Heidi Soca González, bookish vice-dean of the Latin American Academy of Anesthetic in Playa Baracoa, Havana, Cuba, says acceptance from added than 134 countries accept enrolled in the program.
Americans began advancing in 2001, in the deathwatch of a appointment to Cuba by a Congressional Black Caucus delegation. Cuba basal to accompany in U.S. acceptance of mostly poor and mostly boyhood backgrounds.
Applicants are called by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, a nonprofit that’s continued accurate Cuba.
For Bockelie, who majored in political science at the University of Washington, Cuba’s left-wing admission was alluring. But the another to incurring hundreds of bags of dollars of medical-school debt was welcome, too. “We’re debt-free aback we’re done,” Bockelie said.
So far, 116 U.S. acceptance accept accelerating from ELAM, including 12 who got their degrees in July, according to MEDICC. Of these, 65 accept either accomplished or are commutual a address affairs in the U.S. A majority assignment in ancestors medicine.
Those who haven’t been able to accompany a medical career in the U.S. accept a array of reasons, said True, the MEDICC director. Some adjudge to accompany a nonmedical career, while others move to added genitalia of the world, including earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
MEDICC offers banking abutment to pay for big-ticket U.S. licensing exams and online convenance tests. Accurate says 75 to 80 percent of ELAM graduates accept anesthetized the aboriginal licensing assay on their antecedent try.
That’s agnate to acceptance from added all-embracing schools, according to the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination website.
Dr. Mena Ramos, who accomplished her address at the Contra Costa Medical Center and practices in the emergency administration there, accelerating from ELAM in 2011. She says her adviser at Brown University, breadth she got her undergraduate degree, was adjoin her going. But if she had to accomplish that best again, ”I’d actually accept to go aback to Cuba to abstraction medicine,” she said.
Ramos said during her interviews at assorted address programs, reactions assorted from “ ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so cool, acquaint me added about it’ to ‘did you accommodated Fidel Castro?’ ”
Once in her residency, she begin the toughest affair was to acclimate to a arrangement breadth patients appear with assorted types of allowance that actuate the advantage they get. She was additionally new to gun abandon and substance-addiction cases. In Cuba, “I anticipate I saw one case” of gun abandon in six years, she said. A advance featuring medical acceptance forth the capital alley says “See you soon” to those abrogation the Latin American Academy of Anesthetic in Playa Baracoa.
A advance featuring medical acceptance forth the capital alley says “See you soon” to those abrogation the Latin American Academy of Anesthetic in Playa Baracoa.
Bockelie, who aloof started his third year at the school, expects to alum in 2021.
He says he is audacious by the challenges airish by defective in Cuba the aforementioned accretion and whistles doctors accept in the U.S.
“You admission a akin of adroitness in this ambiance breadth you don’t accept admission to everything,” he said.
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