First in Organics – now in Medical Training

Globally, the need for doctors is urgent. There is currently a deficit of seven million doctors, nurses, and other health care workers in developing countries — and that number is expected to nearly double in the next 20 years. The WHO warns that the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), like reducing maternal and infant mortality, will not happen without more health care workers.

Even with all of the new funding for global health these days, professional training remains one of the most critically underserved needs. Passing out emergency supplies is one thing; the multi-year intensive schooling needed to train physicians requires a whole different level of commitment.

Foreign aid is notoriously faddish: a few years ago the “teach a man to fish” parable was omnipresent. But as often happens, the rhetoric did not equal reality. Most foreign aid today is aimed at achieving a particular outcome, such as fighting a disease, providing emergency food, or alleviating the effects of a natural disaster or crisis.

The Cuban model takes a fundamentally different approach: it teaches people essential skills, so that they can be responsible for their own outcomes.

Samantha Marie Moore, a sixth-year ELAM student from Detroit, Michigan, examines Estrella Gomez Mesa, 76, during morning rounds at the Salvador Allende Hospital in Havana, Cuba.

ELAM opened in 1999 in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the Caribbean and Central America. The idea was to help replace doctors that had been lost among Cuba’s neighbors. Since then, the school has trained more than 26,000 doctors from 124 countries around the world.

In one small lab class, two dozen students were drawn from Chad, Sierra Leone, Angola, South Africa, Congo, Belize, and U.S. The school provides six years of medical education, as compared to four in U.S. medical schools. The extra years are spent learning about public health, tropical medicine, and Cuba’s unique focus on prevention. Doctors learn to make diagnoses by knowing about their patients’ working and living conditions, and by interacting, touching, and listening.

Students from the U.S. started attending ELAM in 2005, after members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with Fidel Castro and heard about the training program. Representative Bennie Thompson told the Cuban leader that his constituents did not have access to decent medical care. Castro immediately offered 500 spots to American students. (To date, 134 U.S. students have graduated, and more than 50 are now in residency programs.)

There are no laptops in an ELAM lecture hall. Unlike U.S. medical schools, where most training takes place in the classroom, Cuban medical students spend a lot of time treating patients and performing procedures like inserting a catheter, setting broken bones, or delivering a baby.

Source: | The Development Set