Cuban medical school is unique

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The Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, is no ordinary medical school. The mission of the LASM is to train students who come from medically underserved populations and then to return them as doctors to serve their communities.

I was one of a group of students who gathered last weekend for an orientation/retreat as part of the application process for the LASM.

The school is a project of the Cuban government, furthering their goal of not only improving the living conditions of their own citizens, but also those of the people of the world. The Cuban Ministry of Education, through LASM, offers students from around the world full scholarships, which include tuition, room, food, textbooks, basic necessities and even a small stipend.

How did this revolutionary program begin? In the aftermath of hurricanes George and Mitch in 1998, Cuba sought to help the countries hardest hit: Haiti, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize and Honduras. With limited short-term resources, it made a pledge to provide long-term help by training students from the region who would make a commitment to return to their communities after they finished their studies.

In 2000, the scholarship offer was extended to U.S students. This move was justified by the fact that so many Americans live in Third World conditions, with limited access to health care.

LASM is now the educational home of 7,200 students from at least 24 nations, including 19 Latin American countries, four African countries and the United States. The first class graduated from the program in 2005.

U.S. applications to LASM are processed through the office of the Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization. For information, visit www.ifconews.org.

Cori Marshall (coripmarshall@yahoo.com) is currently applying to attend LASM in the fall.