Castro Offers Free Medical Training for Low-Income, Minority Americans

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Friday, February 16, 2001

Castro Offers Free Medical Training for Low-Income, Minority Americans

 

By KATHERINE S. MANGAN

 

Fidel Castro has offered six years of free medical education and training in Cuba to hundreds of low-income minority students from the United States. The offer was welcomed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who helped arrange the deal, but is being greeted more skeptically by some American medical educators.

 

The Cuban leader extended the invitation after a meeting last year with members of the legislative caucus. He said that if the lawmakers could recruit some students, he'd provide their education for free.

 

Caucus members decided last month to move ahead with the plan.

 

"This appears to be an excellent opportunity to improve health care in our Congressional districts, as well as a chance to fulfill a life's dream for students who couldn't otherwise afford it," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York. Members of minority groups are underrepresented in American medical schools and in the medical profession.

 

Rep. Josť E. Serrano, also a Democrat of New York, said his district office in the Bronx was contacting high-school counselors to identify potential recruits.

 

Students, who must be high-school graduates under the age of 26, would have to agree to return to their communities to practice medicine. In addition to medical education and training, they would receive free meals, housing, and textbooks in

Cuba.

 

The program would be administered by the Black Caucus, but would be open to students from other minority groups, as well.

Some students could be registered this spring, but it may take longer to satisfy skeptics that the program is worth pursuing.

 

American Medical Association officials have raised concerns about the quality of education and training the students would receive, and whether they would have a tougher time getting licensed when they returned to the United States, where they would be held to the same rigorous standards as domestically trained physicians.

 

Only 48 percent of the graduates of foreign medical schools passed the final stage of their licensing examinations in 1999, compared with 92 percent of those who graduated from schools in the United States or Canada, according to the National Board of Medical Examiners.

 

A spokesman for Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, dismissed the Cuban offer as "a propaganda ploy" from a nation that has been under a U.S. trade embargo for four decades.

 

Fernando Garcia Bielsa, a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section, which represents Cuban diplomats in Washington, countered that the offer was merely "a goodwill gesture" from a country that has too many physicians and regularly sends medical assistance to impoverished areas of the world.

 

"Ours is a poor country without a lot of resources, but this is one way we can help other people," he said.

 

Copyright © 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education