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Cuban Doctors Come to US

2015-12-20

via U.S. and Cuba at Odds Over Exodus of the Island’s Doctors – The New York Times.

Since 2006, the US has had a program under which Cuban medical doctors are offered permanent residency in the US– no strings attached.  Once they are here, however, they face many obstacles to gaining the right to practice medicine in an American state.

This program, whatever its intentions, has resulted in a loss of medical professionals to the Cuban public, which needs medical care more acutely because of its poverty and the prevalence of certain chronic infectious diseases endemic to the area.

For many years, Cuba has offered temporary medical doctors to other impoverished countries, especially in South America.  This has greatly improved the health care in these countries and provided the doctors with valuable experience in the field.

The new US program is called the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program and is administered by the Department of Homeland Security.  The program normally takes six weeks from application to departure, but because of a dramatic increase in applicants, it has stretched out to almost six  months.

Many doctors have suddenly decided to apply for the program because thawing relations between the US and Cuba are likely to close down this “loophole.”  Some of these doctors are already posted in foreign countries and are stuck there waiting for their visas.

The Cuban health system is one of the best in the Southern tier of countries of both North and South America.  Training is free, and all residents of Cuba are guaranteed free medical care– although it is not as well-developed as in the US, it is free and comprehensive.

Even the Obama administration lauded the Cuban medical relief system, which sends medical teams to other countries, particularly during natural disasters.

Cuba benefits financially from this medical aid system because the countries that need aid often are willing to provide commodities that Cuba needs and are in surplus elsewhere– particularly oil.

The doctors receive inadequate salaries and work under desperate conditions at times.  They feel that they are being exploited, and this is one more reason to defect.

One doctor described the medical aid system as “modern-day slavery.”

The program of expediting doctor defections was described as “an exploding cigar left over by the Bush administration” (that’s the second Bush) by Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who specializes in the laws of the two countries.

More than seven thousand medical professionals have come in through the program since it began in 2006. In the fiscal year of 2015, 1663 people came in.  This was a 32 percent increase, and represents a tripling of admittances since 2011.

The US program is apparently so popular that some applicants have presented fraudulent credentials to get in.  The Cuban government has restricted specialists from travelling abroad without permission, starting December 7.

The US program to bring doctors in is in parallel with US laws that make it possible for almost any Cuban who reaches American soil to be granted asylum and permanent residency.

One surgeon in Havana said that the only doctors who haven’t left are only here because they can’t afford the price of a plane ticket, given the low salaries they are paid by the Cuban government.

Doctors who come to the US frequently find that their credentials are inadequate and that it is extremely difficult to pass the examinations required to obtain a license.  The examination for foreign doctors covers the entire medical curriculum at once, while the exam for native doctors only covers the latter, clinical part of their training.

Some foreign doctors, daunted by the examination, have instead become physician assistants or nurses.  Their talents are underused in these positions, and they are not paid nearly as much.  Nonetheless, they are happy to be here and enjoy their new jobs.  I have personally communicated with several doctors from South America who have become physician assistants and have done well, with accommodating doctors as their supervisors.

Some doctors miss their country of origin and feel homesick, but they appreciate the freedom and opportunities they have in the US.

Most of the above is sourced from the NYT article noted at the head of this post.

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