The University of Medical Sciences in Havana is one of Cuba’s most important institutions, not only for its long history but because of the social and human values that are essential to its training of healthcare professionals. Dr. Luis Alberto Pichs García is the current Rector.
We were able to speak with Dr. Pichs, a man as down-to-earth as he is eloquent, with a doctorate in Medicine and Teaching Pedagogy, as well as specialties in Internal Medicine and Intensive and Emergency Care. He was also for a time the head of the Medical Sciences faculty at the Calixto García hospital (between 2011 and 2015) and one of his jobs was to serve as medical training advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education in the Republic of Angola (2008) as well as the Education Ministry in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (2010- 2011). He is a member of the Technical Evaluation Committee at the accreditation board for higher education in Cuba, and the president of the Latin American Association of Faculties and Medical Schools (ALAFEM by its initials in Spanish).
Dr. Pichs, who is fondly known simply as “El Profe Pichs” has a degree in Health Management and a masters in Medical Education. He told us that he had been involved in the teaching of Medical Sciences for more than three decades, the last 15 years of which were spent at the Academic Directorate, with a variety of responsibilities at the University and finally, in the last year, as the Rector at Havana’s University of Medical Sciences. This is the place where he trained as a doctor, as a specialist, and as a teacher, and one reason he considers it such a great honor to be named as the University’s director.
“The University of Medical Sciences in Havana is the historical center for medical training in Cuba, begun some 288 years ago at the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Jerome in Havana where there were four colleges, one of which was Medicine. This has been the historical backdrop for the training of many doctors in Cuba, and we are enormously proud to still be working with a group of professors who began their medical training during the period of the Cuban Revolution, handing that knowledge down to succeeding generations and new teachers,” he said.
“The University is at its height; in recent decades it has taken on new responsibilities and challenges, corresponding to those of higher education in the 21st century, one of which is giving the training processes an international dimension.Today the institution includes 13 specialties: nine are under the umbrella of Medical Sciences, having more to do with career development in general health, and the rest are in Dentistry, Nursing, Healthcare Technology, and international student training. The latter is the most recent addition to the University and has a training process focused on guaranteeing adequate training for international students. These students have been attending the University since the 1960’s and their enrollment has increased over the past few years; they come to Havana either as self-financed students or on scholarship from various governments around the world.”
“The University of Medical Sciences in Havana currently has more than 30,500 students, 14,600 of which have university training; the center for advanced studies also has a growing number of students with technical as well as post-graduate degrees. The University offers 12 university-level career tracks, in addition to training in Medicine, Dentistry, and Licensed Nursing. There are eight career tracks for licensing in Healthcare Technology, designed to meet the demands for technically trained individuals in healthcare settings around the world. We are also developing 62 specialty programs, of which 54 are medical, five dental, and three in nursing. Furthermore, the University is developing 32 masters programs and five doctoral degree programs”.
“The University has a wealth of teaching experience, with more than 7,600 professors, of which 42% are full or assistant professors. It’s a faculty where more than 70% of the teachers are also working in healthcare settings throughout the capital, and as a result, are carrying out daily teaching and hands-on assistance. This corresponds to a basic principle in Cuban education, requiring hands-on experience, in real settings, beginning in the first year of each program. This offers students the possibility of gaining real-life knowledge and skills for their professional career”.
“Currently 39.1% of the total student enrollment at the University of Medical Sciences is made up of international students. Since 1998, the University has been part of a great training project at the Latin American School of Medicine, and as a result has been able to progressively work with foreign students, both at the pre-med level as well as medical and specialty education. Once they have completed their medical degree, many of the international students go on to specialize or take additional training and courses within the University”.
“The University is also responsible for creating different courses, training and internships that complement and guarantee continued improvement for healthcare professionals not only in our own country but in the rest of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where constant training is essential”.
“The University of Medical Sciences in Havana is an active participant in academic exchanges with other universities and university organizations. It is a member of the Latin American Universities Union, and during the 2014-2017 period was also the president of the Latin American Association of Medical Faculties and Schools. Its dental and nursing schools belong to the Organization of Dental Faculties Schools and Departments (OFEDO) and the Latin American Association of Nursing Schools and Faculties (ALADEFE), respectively. The University currently has academic exchange agreements with more than 80 universities worldwide, not only in Latin America – because of its geographical closeness and language similarities – but also with universities in Europe and North America”.
Eyes sparkling, characteristic of someone who loves their job, “El Profe” told us: “The fundamental goal of our University is to provide quality training and ensure that our graduates leave with the social, humane, professional, ethical and revolutionary commitment that every doctor in the 21st century ought to have. We train our foreign students in the same principles we share with our Cuban students, but above all, we place a high priority on seeing that their professional training goes hand in hand with a humane, ethical approach and commitment to social responsibility for the good of their people and the country from which they come”.
“We see the University as having a promising future as it delivers all of its courses, at a time when its training processes have been internationalized and the mobility of its students and professors has increased notably. Our University is the leading center in Cuba for training in Healthcare Sciences, and therefore also a point of reference at the international level”.