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Medical student spends year in Cuba
By THERESA NOVAK
Gazette-Times City Editor
Study, politics and diplomacy marked medical student Eduardo Jose Cervantes' first year in The Latin American School of Medicine outside of Havana, Cuba. He is in Corvallis for a few weeks, visiting the place where he completed his undergraduate work in general science and catching up with his many local supporters.
Studying in the world's largest medical school is like medical school elsewhere in the most basic ways, he said: "Lots and lots of study in physiology, histology, embryology" as well as endless memorization of bones, muscles and the general functions of anatomy. Cervantes, who is a naturalized citizen born in Mexico, is learning the basics of medicine along with thousands of students from 30 nations.
Although his first year has meant getting into some lively debates with his international classmates about the United States and its policies, he said that in general the U.S. has a better international reputation than people might think.
"Most people are positive about the U.S.," Cervantes said during a stop Monday at the Gazette-Times a few hours before he gave a Spanish-language talk about his experiences at the Corvallis Multicultural Center on Ninth Street. (He will be speaking in English at the Center at 7 tonight.)
Cervantes, 30, came with his brothers to the U.S. when he was 18 from their island city of Sinalda, Mexico, on the northwestern coast. He served in the U.S. Navy before deciding to pursue a science degree at Oregon State University.
His travels in the military deepened his commitment to helping unfortunate people obtain quality medical care. He received a scholarship to attend the Latin American School of Medicine with the help of the Pastors for Peace scholarship program.
Cervantes said that politics is ever-present in Cuba, where the citizenry seems hopeful that President Obama's election means easing of trade relations and travel restrictions. Cuba was under the communist rule of Fidel Castro from 1959 until his brother, Raul, took over last year. A U.S. embargo on Cuba limits legal diplomatic and economic exchanges to humanitarian efforts. Fortunately for Cervantes, that includes attending medical school.
Cervantes, who favors a hybrid health care delivery system rather than either Cuba's single-payer government-run program or the United States' purely private health care program, said the biggest difference is Cuba's emphasis and support of preventative medicine.
All age groups - from school-age students to the elderly - are encouraged and helped to stay fit. That means mandatory physical education for students - even medical students.
"I have to take volleyball" he said.
Cervantes said he will return to regular classes after Labor Day. In his second year, he's looking forward to helping out doctors running clinics. In all, his studies will take six years. After that, Cervantes said he plans to practice medicine in the U.S., but not the summers. He still plans to spend those in service of the poor.
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