ELAM Injects Humanism into US Medicine
By Martha Andrés, Photos: Prensa Latina
In an expression of profound gratitude to the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) Abraham Vela, a young US graduate of Guatemalan descent, told CubaPlus that “the clinical experience and the sense of humanism I attained in Cuba are equally priceless.”
This young California-born man is one of 170 students from the United States who have graduated, free of charge, from the renowned medical school founded on the island in 1999.
Having studied in Cuba between 2010 to 2016 — a time in his life he is now especially proud of — Vela has applied for a residency in Family Medicine, the equivalent of General Medicine in Cuba. “In the US, a doctor’s objective is to make a profit and patients are clients rather than human beings. In Cuba, we were taught that it really is possible to build a better world, not only in the areas of health and education but when addressing issues such as racism,” he commented.
Vela was one of a number of ELAM graduates who recently participated in this year’s Days of Action against the Blockade of Cuba, in Washington DC, which this time focused on the damage caused to the Caribbean nation’s health system by the ongoing economic, commercial and financial siege.
During the interview, Abraham stressed the impact that his stay in Cuba has had on his life and the words gratitude, solidarity and humanism appeared throughout.
Vela said that it was through a University of San Francisco professor that he discovered the possibility of studying in Cuba.
The idea very much excited him and he made contact with the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/ Pastors for Peace, which supports ELAM in their US student selection process. “Studying medicine in the US would not have been possible, it would have taken me a very long time and left me with a level of debt that would have prohibited me from serving my community as had I wanted to.”
He added that prior to departing, he thought that in coming to Cuba, he would be confronting the most difficult experience of his life. His ideas about what would be a new place had been based on lots of news distorted by a hostile media and his f amily had their o wn concerns. He now knows that leaving Cuba proved to be a far more difficult experience.
He observed that “a typical lesson at a US university involves sitting down with a large group of students facing a professor at the blackboard. Exams evoke a lot of rivalry between students and there is no space for comradeship.”
“The first thing I realized was how different things were here. Our professor explained that we were classmates in a school of solidarity and brotherhood and that we had to help each other.”
He also said that in the time he spent at the institution — where 28,500 doctors from 103 countries have graduated — he benefitted from the opportunity of sharing with people from different origins from whom he could learn about different religions and languages, taste diverse types of food and dance to different rhythms.
“And the most important thing is that I became part of a global family. I can go now to any continent and find friends there. That is a beautiful brotherhood.” Reflecting on this recent period of his life, he reiterated his gratitude to ELAM, to the Cuban people and the historic leader of their Revolution and creator of the teaching center, Fidel Castro.
He said that the opportunity had ensured that the only debt with which he had returned home with was the moral commitment to Cuba to work within his community.”
Vela admitted that his return to the US and the exams he faced to qualify for a residency would be tough because of differences in the education systems, but that he had received an excellent training in Cuba.
He explained that things had been even more difficult for the first generations of graduates who opened the way, because the quality of their training was unknown.
However, once residency programs became more familiar, they were increasingly impressed by graduates trained in Cuba and that perceptions had now changed for the better.