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Med Students Home From Cuba in Midst of Health Care Debate

August 3, 2009

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - They've gone a long way for a career in health care, and now they're home to share their experiences in the midst of the national health care debate. Twelve American students currently enrolled at the Latin American International School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, have been touring New Mexico.

Louis Head, a member of the board of directors for the Southwest Organizing Project, has been helping coordinate the students' tour of the Southwest, where many of them will be looking for residency or long-term practice options. He says the students are able to honor a pledge to return to the United States and work in under-served communities because they will graduate with few or no student loans to pay back.

"It makes it all the more likely that they will be able to come to places like New Mexico, where we need them. Mora County for example, is a county with hardly any doctors at all."

Three students from New Mexico currently are enrolled at the school. The students are studying in Havana on a full scholarship as part of a Cuban program to train doctors from around the world.

The visiting group will tour health care facilities in New Mexico and talk about their experiences in the program Tuesday night at the Albuquerque Friends Meeting at 1600 5th Street NW, beginning at 6 p.m. The public is invited.

Head says the students have unique perspectives to add to the current health care debate, and experience to help bolster the system where it's needed most.

"These students can really inject some life into community-based health care initiatives, reflecting a desire to provide more equitable and accessible health care to all."

Head says students being trained in Havana also learn skills and approaches to medicine that are less common here at home.

"Cuba has an incredibly small patient-to-doctor ratio. Preventive medicine is practiced very strongly there. Alternative medicine is also part of the training."

Co-sponsors of the tour include the UNM Department of Community and Family Medicine, the Southwest Organizing Project and the Native Health Initiative.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM