Dare To Dream: Amazing Medical School Opportunities Available For Minorities!
by Nanette D. Massey
How would you like to go to one of the world’s top regarded medical schools at absolutely no cost, have your living expenses covered, and begin your career totally debt free? What if you only needed a high school diploma to be accepted? What if you could do all of this and have the exotic experience of studying abroad?
What if being Black and poor was actually advantageous to you in the admissions process?
On Sunday, June 24, The Western New York Peace Center showed the film Dare To Dream at Hallwalls Arts Center. It is a half hour documentary about ELAM, the Latin American Medical School, in Cuba. At ELAM, students are recruited from the poorest, most disadvantaged parts of the world to study medicine at no cost in exchange for a commitment to go back to their home communities to practice medicine. Cheryl LaBash from Detroit, representing the groups Pastors for Peace and the Inter-religious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) was on hand to field questions.
After two hurricanes laid waste to much of Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in 1988, Fidel Castro’s Cuban government sent nearly two thousand doctors and other medical practitioners to these ravaged countries. After patching injuries and mending broken bones, doctors found these to be only the tip of the medical needs in these areas. Treatable concerns such as dehydration, unattended chronic diseases, and the lack of vaccinations were long standing, more permanent problems. Cuba converted an old Havana naval academy into a university offering scholarships to students of these four countries with the idea of transforming medical care all together in the Caribbean and Latin American world.
In 1999, Castro met with members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus. In solidarity with the recognizably subpar health index numbers of the African American population, he broadened admission to ELAM to include young people living in any district represented by the CBC, and eventually any low income students from medically underserved U.S. communities.
Students between ages eighteen and twenty five are admitted from all over the world, mainly from North and South America, Africa, and Asia. Ten slots are reserved annually for U.S. citizens. Normally applications go through their respective governments for screening but, because of the precarious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, IFCO is the country’s go-between. President Barack Obama did famously make moves in 2014 toward eradicating the embargo enacted during the late 1950’s, but the Trump administration has reversed that diplomatic course.
Classes are taught in Spanish, but having no familiarity with the language need not be a hindrance. A twelve week immersion, focusing on medical terminology, is a part of the six year curriculum. A high school diploma with a B average is required. Course work needs to include one year of college level biology, chemistry, and physics classes. Students who missed these courses in high school may choose to spend a year at a local college in order to shore up their transcript.
The World Health Organization has given the school its highest nod of approval. Course work has been evaluated and approved against the expectations of the Medical Board of California, the stiffest targets in the country. ELAM also takes into account the particular obligation to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exams series (USMLE) in its syllabus. Graduates leave recognized by all fifty states as ready to withstand the rigors of any residency program.
There is no expectation for students to remain in Cuba upon graduation. The nation already enjoys an abundance of doctors, with nearly eight available for every thousand people (compared to under three in the U.S.). The school’s prime objective is to provide medical practitioners in remote places that may not have any at all. In the U.S., new doctors who wish to administer primary and preventive care in locations where the pay may not be alluring find they cannot for being saddled with thousands of dollars worth of student loans. Graduating from ELAM with no debt allows these young professionals to lead their decisions with philanthropic purpose instead of economic necessity, if that is indeed where their heart lies.
What should you be doing now if you are a Buffalo Public School East Side seventh or eighth grade student imagining yourself in a white coat with lots of extra initials after your name, but your family has no means for an expensive education?
Your dreams are not dead yet. “For once,” said World Health Organization Director Margaret Chan, “if you’re poor, female, or from an indigenous population you have a distinct advantage.”
First, profit from the Spanish curriculum at your school if it is offered, or be prepared to do so at the high school level. Pay extra emphasis to your math and science studies, even getting a tutor should you need to. The resources expended towards a tutor now will save you thousands in tuition later on. Lastly, familiarize yourself with the website ifconews.org/medical-school.