Frightened by Working Conditions, Dozens of Cubans Give Up Medical Studies

There are very few students interested in the specialty of General Surgery, and those who study it are demotivated by the lack of practice. (Facebook/Hospital Antonio Luaces Iraola)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 November 2022 — The stampede of 146 graduate students puts emergency medical care in Ciego de Ávila in crisis. A report published this Saturday by the official newspaper Invasor plucks up courage to find explanations. It attributes the figure to the demotivation of young people and takes a long detour to never mention the most obvious cause of the deficit: emigration.

Of the total number of dropouts that the University of Medical Sciences (UCM) registers “in pencil,” 71 have definitively renounced the specialty (26 comprehensive general practitioners, 7 dentists, 1 nurse and 37 specialists in secondary care), while 75 point out that their refusal to continue their studies is “temporary.”

The deficit translates into poor medical care in the province, and to top it off, morbidity rates have increased. Most to blame, in the opinion of health managers in Ciego de Ávila, is the covid-19 pandemic, which closed the operating rooms to operations that weren’t urgent and therefore eliminated the possibility that young residents could train.

“No surgeon is trained by watching,” Dr. Alberto Bermúdez, head of the surgery classroom service at Antonio Luaces hospital, with more than 30 years of experience, laments in the official press.

According to Bermúdez, there are very few students interested in the specialty of General Surgery, and those who do study it are demotivated by the lack of practice. In addition, students “without aptitude” often opt for this specialty.

“If in six months of specialty, the resident has only been able to do a suture in the emergency room, he is disillusioned; he already did that in the fourth year of his career,” the doctor complains. Of the twenty students he supervised in other years, in 2021 there were only four, of which only one aspires to become a surgeon.

However, the report prefers to point out the usual suspects: the financial situation of the country and the “blockade” of the United States, responsible for a “long list of patients awaiting operations” and, therefore, the “highs and lows of the teaching cycle.”

For her part, the academic vice-rector of the UCM, Mirta Elena Rodríguez, washes her hands: the faculty insist on graduating residents only when they have scrupulously completed the curriculum of the specialty, even if that means delaying the period of studies.

This also means that many teachers must offer their classes and then go to the operating room almost immediately. The pressure of this double routine is also felt by residents such as Rosabel Fiallo, who is taking General Surgery.

“The workload always falls on us, because we’re trained under the principle of ’learning by doing’. After working in emergency, I went straight to the operating room because I had to follow up on cases and take advantage of the time to learn,” says the young woman.

At no time does Invaser mention the fact that many professionals leave the country, in the unprecedented exodus that the Island is experiencing. The renunciation of medical studies is not exclusive to the specialties, but is even more frequent in the undergraduate stage.

The few prospects of practicing the profession with a minimum of necessary conditions scare away future doctors as well as residents.

Kirenia, a young woman who deserted her path to leaving the country, confessed to 14ymedio that she couldn’t see herself “working more than twelve hours a day in a hospital where there are no medicines, the toilets are so dirty that many doctors spend their entire working day without even urinating and earning a little more than 4,000 pesos that don’t go very far.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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