Tag Archives: latin american school of medicine

Devil on your shoulder

Between living in Haiti and Botswana over the past few years I keep finding instances in my life where I don’t give second thoughts to things I think most people would instantly question.  For example, one of my classmates from Chile calls himself Satan (not his given name, just what he calls himself now).  This is not a lie.  The first time I met Satan I had to double check I was hearing his name correctly but as soon as I found out I was hearing it correctly I accepted it without a second thought.  This was about a month ago.  Then on Friday I was contemplating my presence in medical school in Cuba and what exactly I have gotten myself into and then it hit me: I got to school with a guy who calls himself Satan.  I’m not nearly as surprised with his name as I am with the fact that I didn’t give it a second thought until a month later.  I just accepted it as it was.

In Satan’s defense, he is a really amicable fellow.  He just happens to love the genre of music called “death metal”.  Odd for a future doctor?  Perhaps, but thank God (no pun intended) that it is only music.  I’m sure he will make a good doctor, and I feel that fans of death metal deserve a doctor who understands their life just as lawyers and bankers have doctors that understand their lives.  After all, he will probably be really good at diagnosing, treating, and understanding injuries encountered in mosh pits at concerts. 

I guess situations like this are destiny for those of us who search out understanding of other people and their situations.  It seriously makes me wonder what other things in life I miss that other people would immediately see as odd.  On the other hand, it also helps me understand that things I think are odd, such as poverty in the midst of so much wealth, other people accept as part of the normalcy of life.  So in the end who is odd and who is normal?  My answer:  If a medical student named Satan can be normal pretty much anything can be.

Jornada Científica and Demographics

All students at the Latin American School of Medicine are highly advised to participate in the yearly Scientific Journal competition. This is a country wide competition open to all university students. Our advisors for our journal articles are our professors or other faculty members. These professors have fervor for what they do. Most of them are teaching from 8 to 12 class sessions every week, often times in multiple subjects. They themselves are required to publish written reviews or investigations every year. Then work with us on our stuff. And grade tests and papers. And on top of that manage their department. There is no secretary at the front desk of the department, in fact, there is no front desk. I’m about to get off track talking about how different the professor culture is in Cuba from the U.S. I need to get back to the journals, but I’m going to revisit this area soon, I promise.

So, the Scientific Journal. In reality it seems that most students do not participate. And those that do participate usually write at least 2 or 3 articles for different journals depending on time and research resources available. Research in Cuba is very different. Our library is scant on books, however it is easy enough to go to Havana and buy books if we need them. The most expensive book in the country is not going to cost more than 30 pesos…about $1.25. However, what Cuba does have is an extensive country wide electronic library. Books, journal articles, thesis, everything. All available for free PDF format download.

Library reading room with a view of the Straits of Florida

So for the articles I am writing I’ve been pouring over a lot stuff written in Cuba. And I have stumbled upon something most interesting. Cuban research, no matter what subject, rarely talks about demographics. There is no talk of upper income levels and the lowest standard deviation of income, there is no talk of black, white, asian, or other. Very little racial demographic data is to be found anywhere. As a social science major from a United States university this is downright bewildering. I mean, these are the first distinguishing marks we are told to use to differentiate our sample. And here I am in Cuba and no one really gives a flip about how many people were black that got sick and how many people were white. What the Cubans care about is that people got sick. Where are they from? What made them sick? How do they live? Sure there are great arguments about why we need to look at groups of people based on their skin color or historic ethnic origin because of genetic predispositions and culture. But most of these arguments are well suited for a half-assed type of medical treatment we have in the U.S. We normally treat people in groups, according to the most common demographic features so we can judge success based on the population rather than the individual. If you don’t buy this why do you think so many individuals fall through the cracks?

Computer lab. Holy of Holies for those of the WWW clan.

Then there is Cuba. Here, people are rarely treated medically as a group. When it comes to treatment, and hell, even prevention, it is an individual on individual basis. There is no room or reason for distinguishing black, white, poor, or rich in this system. Those details don’t matter when you have the will to treat every person as an individual. What matters to the Cubans is how many people they cured and how many they didn’t.

Me and ELAM

I go to medical school in Cuba.  This is not novel or unique outside of the fact that I am from America.  Cuba has a lot of doctors, a lot of medical schools (around 20 I think), and there are currently thousands of students from other countries studying medicine here.  I simply happen to be one of them.

I’ve been here for about two and a half months now.  I decided to start this blog because I think that information is usually a good thing.  And because I now live in Cuba I can share about my experiences here.  More specific reasons I am starting this blog include wanting to make people aware of the Latin American School of Medicine, to keep my friends and family updated on my happenings, and to stay connected to the world outside of Cuba.  I’ll probably talk about all of these reasons in future posts, but I think that is sufficient for now.

Let me tell you about my school.  Right now I’m sitting on the third floor of building 4, tower 2, looking out the window at the Straits of Florida.  I’m about a football field away from the water.  It is excellent, but the fear of hurricanes past is marked with the residue of tape on the windows.  On my floor we are about 26 students living in 3 rooms of, give or take, 10 students per room.  We share all of our space, and it works out well.  With most students here from Latina America I am surrounded by Spanish, except for some Brazilians (Portuguese) who live on the floor above and a few of my roommates who know English.  Being in Cuba, all of our classes are in Spanish.

The Cuban government provides us with everything we need to sustain and study.  Food, clothes, books, toiletries, even a stipend paid monthly.  Most services available on any college campus are available at the Latin American School of Medicine, they might just look very different.  For example, we don’t have a multimillion dollar stadium, but we do have multiple sporting courts of all kinds and the freedom, as students, to make our own teams, leagues, practice schedules, and even fields (as some Caribbean students recently built a cricket pitch). 

why build a stadium around this view?

There are a couple of convenience stores on campus and more than a few food shops were we can buy snacks for a very reasonable price between meals and classes.  Most student activities and student administration is run by the Student Junta, a group of a few elected students who manage our well being and respond to queries and concerns.  There are lots of student groups on campus representing all types of organizations.  To start a group you only need initiative.  It is one of the most open campuses I have ever been on when it comes to student led programs.

Classes are about the same size variations that can be found in U.S. medical schools, even though at this campus we have many, many more students than a typical U.S. medical school.  I particularly like how classroom space is used here.  During the day there are classes in all rooms, all the time, and during the night the rooms are open to the students to study.  The system here really minimizes wasted real estate (opposite my experience on U.S. campuses with lots of empty classrooms during the day).  There remains lots to be said about our curriculum and student live, two subjects I plan to make recurrent topics in this blog.

I hope that this introduction might spur some interest and answer some questions about where I am.  I’m going to try to address all of those who, what, where, why, and how questions with this blog while, hopefully, keeping in mind the reasons I started it.  As I make more experiences here I hope the posts become a bit more personal and slightly more opinionated.  The reader only needs to keep in mind that thousands of people go to school here and I’m just one of them.