UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 13 | Nov.
UBC Med Students Impressed with Cuban Health-Care System
High Quality of Care Stems from High Quality of Caring
By Hilary Thomson
Few North Americans would suspect a model public health-care
system could be found in a developing country.
Yet for four UBC first-year medical students thats
exactly what they found in Cuba during an eight-week elective
We wanted to expose students early in their career
to innovations in the Cuban medical system, says Jerry
Spiegel, director of Global Health at the Liu Institute for
Global Issues. The elective gave students a better appreciation
of the range of population health issues and showed them how
much is possible with limited resources.
The long-term goal of such exchanges is to equip and motivate
Canadian physicians and researchers to promote global health
involvement, he adds.
The trip was made possible through UBCs collaboration
with the medical school in Santa Clara in central Cuba. Based
in student residences, students shadowed family doctors at
community practice clinics, took field trips to learn about
issues such as emergency, rural and occupational health and
I came back with a deeper sense of the social aspects
of medicine, says student Erin Adams. The extreme
sacrifices made by Cuban doctors reinforced for me the basic
elements of choosing medicine as a profession, namely, a genuine
care for peoples health and a passion for the art and
science of medicine.
Student Arlene MacDougall agrees.
I learned how impressive the Cuban medical system was
both in organization and delivery. I realized that a high
quality of care could be given in the absence of technology
Elizabeth Kenward appreciated learning about the role of
doctors in international politics and health policy as well
as ideas for patient care that integrate natural, physical
and medical treatments in one clinic.
Cubas system emphasizes preventive medicine and neighbourhood-based
family medicine with clinics located every three or four blocks
in a community. Regional systems of health-care services and
continuing professional training also enrich the countrys
delivery of health services, says Spiegel.
When students werent doing academic work, they took
in beaches, opera, museums and open-air concerts and played
soccer in the streets with children in Santa Clara. Despite
language barriers, all students were impressed with the warmth
and helpfulness of their medical school hosts and other community
The exchange is an offshoot of a five-year research project
that Spiegel is leading to help Cuban institutions strengthen
their teaching of environmental health risks assessments and
management. Establishing continuing relationships with Cuban
health professionals and researchers is a key element in his
efforts to foster internationalization among Canadian academics
Public health is a national priority in Cuba and funding
is maintained at all costs, he says. We Canadians
have a lot to learn from this model. Spiegel also co-chairs
a national group called Coalition for Global Health Research
(Canada) that seeks to develop Canadas role in international
Following a September 2001 conference he chaired at the Liu
Institute for Global Issues, global health experts agreed
to form a coalition to seek and co-ordinate funding and research
opportunities to address health needs of developing countries
through a coalition.
Spiegel and coalition member Arun Chockalingam, assistant
director of the Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health
based at St. Pauls Hospital, will travel to Tanzania
this month. They will participate in a joint meeting with
the African Forum for Health Research and the Global Forum
for Health Research to explore opportunities for collaborative
research on African health issues.
More information on the coalition may be found at www.cghrc.ca.