Interestingly, there has been a trend among American students, specifically those who cannot necessarily afford to attend medical school to pursue their education elsewhere. They are considering medical school overseas in locations where education is more affordable. This may seem to be a strange trend, but it’s happening more and more frequently. Many of these students are heading off to Cuba, to attend classes at the Latin American School of Medicine, Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM), formerly the Escuela Latinoamericana de Ciencias Médicas.
ELAM is a medical school which first opened its doors in 1999. It is fully owned and operated by the Cuban government. The School is located in the Sante Fe district west of Havana. The student population at the school is comprised mostly of international students. There are almost 20,000 students at the School which makes it one of the largest medical schools globally. This is rapid growth for such a short period. The School offers free tuition, room and board for the entire program of seven years in length. The only cost involved with studying at the Latin American School of Medicine is the travel to and from the school.
The School is recognized by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) and the World Health Organization. As an educational institution, it is accredited by the Medical Board of California. Upon graduation, American graduates of the program can apply for residency placements anywhere in the United States. After completion of the program, the medical school graduates must be willing to “give back” and work in low income areas of need in the US.
For American students interested in medical school at ELAM, IFCO – the Pastors for Peace organization – works in partnership with the Cuban Ministry of Health to facilitate student entrance to the school.
One reason the School is so widely attended is because of the facilities it offers to its students. There are almost 40 laboratories and a large number of classrooms. This gives students ample opportunity to study and research in any medical specialty they desire.
Just over 3,000 students live on campus, including a huge number of students from the United States. There are two dormitories dedicated solely to the housing of American students.
Students are housed in dormitories. The cafeteria offers three meals a day of simple Cuban cuisine of bread, rice, and beans. Those who desire a more varied diet can seek out other meal options at an additional cost.
The School aims to educate individuals coming from low-income neighborhoods who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study medicine. The mission is for these students to return to their home neighborhoods to make an impact in the health community. The program is a little longer than other schools, taking seven years to complete. The first three years of classes all take place on campus. After the third year, the students engage in clinicals at teaching hospitals in Havana.
There are some criteria that an undergraduate must meet in order to qualify to attend ELAM. They must be at least 25 years of age and provide a clean bill of physical and mental health. A clean bill of health is required to study anywhere in the world. Those with a criminal history are not eligible to study at the Latin American School of Medicine. All classes and textbooks are in Spanish. Fluency in the language is imperative in order to be able to study at the school effectively. However, if a student is not fluent in Spanish before commencing their medical education, Cuba offers free language training prior to the beginning of medical school. These classes typically last from six months to one year.
ELAM is a vital part of the Cuban healthcare system. Many doctors that receive their education and training from the School are sent to parts of the world where medical resources are of urgent need. This includes areas like Haiti that have been devastated by earthquakes in the past and the recent Hurricane Matthew. The Latin American School of Medicine is a great resource for aspiring doctors from low-income neighborhoods who want to make a difference in their communities as well as globally after they graduate.