Guyanese medical students in Cuba should be allowed to do their internship there

Dear Editor,

Upon the release of Cuban scholarship application forms in 2005, more than 300 persons applied for the field of medicine in which there were only 20 openings. As any competitive process has it, the chaff was separated from the wheat, the cream struggled to rise to the top and after a meticulous selection process many qualified applicants left with long faces. The nineteen hand-picked, lacquered and polished candidates left the homeland with great pride and enthusiasm to meet the expectations of their families, friends and nation.

We have since toiled for excellence and have achieved as no other previous group sent to Cuba has. Our success is undoubtedly one to make any nation proud. This 6th and final year of our medical training marks the termination of an academic cycle that should not be altered much less discontinued in an unfamiliar medium. However, we feel powerless since our government desires the completion of our internship in Guyana.

The consolidation of our clinical and surgical rotations should be with familiar yet varied professors, tutors and medical auxiliary staff. There is no debate that the small number of Cuban specialists in Guyana cannot compare with the multiplicity of professionals, specialized centres and technology in the Cuban hospitals that are at our everyday disposal for academic purposes.

The  unusual scope of illnesses seen by a 3rd year Medical Student (MS) in Cuba needs to be revisited by the now more knowledgeable, confident and hands-on 6th year MS in Cuba. Doubts  accumulated during these rotations can only be cleared up once there is consistency in the academic learning process with all the resources to permit the fortification and implanting of ideas. Need we mention that the professor in Cuba is not the same professor in Guyana? In Cuba, the training of impeccable health care professionals is priority number one for the docent, but in Guyana the discovery of an assortment of bovine-based products, the internet and the skeleton key of freedom take preeminence over a decent lecture or consultation.

Spanish has been our bread and butter in and out of the hospital for the last six years. Our endeavour in the preparatory year was to dominate this language for the benefit of our basic survival and later medical training. Direct patient interrogation establishes 90% of any clinical diagnosis, and the abrupt change of language will undoubtedly leave us speechless and frustrated when interacting with our Guyanese patients.

The explanation of illnesses and the best course of treatment in English, a language in which we have very little practical medical experience, will cause criticism of our title.  This may seem advantageous to some, but we remind them that our frequent evaluations and medical licensing exam are all in Spanish. This potpourri of tongues is a strain for the already exhausted and tense MS, so please help us deal with one challenge at a time and so excel at improving the health of our nation.

Our physical presence back in Guyana will be distracting. Sailing the emotional waves of familial reunification and social obligations with old (and new) friends is not conducive to cementing the final year of one’s medical career.

As the imperfect human beings that we all are, settling unresolved conflicts, making first impressions and picking up from where we left off implicitly assaults our much-needed and scarcely existent study time. The consolidation of our academic foundation for the long but productive road that lies ahead is in not in consonance with this hindrance. We have been six years without having to babysit our new niece, carrying little sister to CXC lessons or shopping, cooking and serving dinner to the family because mommy and daddy have an important meeting with the boss. Boldly we can say that sacrificing one more year of family time for proper professional formation is not at all selfish, since 1) having no medical licence is a shadow that will follow us around even after the sun freezes over; and 2) our contractual return to Guyana was established to be in July 2012, hence no family or personal expectations will be crumpled.

How about the upcoming general elections and the onus they place on the regular Tom John, much less on nineteen politically scorched medical students?

We are not just referring to Socialist Cuba and all its trimmings, but to the incongruous nature and regular breaching of contractual agreements by our government. We are appreciative of the increase in stipend and the regular and refreshing visits from our new Ambassador, but what we really need is consistency in our academic formation.

Here’s an outrageous idea: poll past Cuban-bred MS, especially the ones who have burnt the midnight oil and have fought tirelessly for their dream. Inquire what would have been their choice location for internship and where they would have better internalized their years of medical training to climax explosively and outstandingly? Haven’t we the right to at least an opinion with respect to our future, or was that nullified after making our mark on PSM paper with government ink? We defy any government official reading this letter to do an anonymous questionnaire and be prepared to be mind-boggled. Speaking of numbers, is it at all economical to start a whole internship programme for just 19 students, when more than 10 of the same belong to regions out of Georgetown? Will the stipend be sufficient for lodging, meals, transportation, the inevitable financial assistance in the home and recreation? The academic capacity of the rural MS will be less given the hours of travel to the city and hassle of finding amenities.

What about the unnecessary toll upon the backs of our families? From day one, we have been conditioned to return as working professionals earning a salary that edifies and relieves the household load.

This scholarship was granted to aid the poor man until the end of his professional formation and specifically to prevent the strain that such a course places on the already worn-out and perforated pockets of his family. Again, the testimony of past interns located both in and out of Georgetown serves as a point of reference for what seems as an inevitable load. Please, try to see eye to eye with us.

Unequivocally Cuba is the better choice for buttressing this splendid career choice for all who stand to benefit in the future. We have trusted the government with our lives, now please grant us this only petition to edify and improve our homeland, by reaching the pinnacle of our abilities, one that can only be attained by completing the academic cycle in Cuba.

Yours faithfully,
(Name and address provided)

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