US Students studying at the Latin American School of Medicine in Cuba

Frequently Asked Questions

Full Scholarship Program to Study Medicine in Cuba

IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT ALL APPLICANTS READ THIS DOCUMENT IN FULL BEFORE CONTACTING THE IFCO OFFICE.

If you are interested in a scholarship to the medical school in Cuba, you MUST fit the following criteria:

Be US citizens (with US passport)

Be between the ages of 18 and 25 by the time of matriculation.

Must have completed the following college-level, pre-med science courses with grade of B- or better:

  • One year of biology with lab (Biology I and II with labs)
  • One year of chemistry with lab (General Chemistry I and II with labs)
  • One year of organic chemistry with lab (Organic Chemistry I and II with labs)
  • One year of physics with lab (Physics I and II with labs)

Be physically and mentally fit

Come from the humblest and neediest communities in the US

Be committed to practice medicine in poor and underserved US communities after graduation

*Application cycle begins September 30th and applications are due March 15th of the following year.

Applicants will be carefully selected by the IFCO Medical School Advisory Committee, based on applications, transcripts, interviews, letters of reference, etc.  Final admissions decisions will be made by administrators of the Latin American School of Medicine and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Does IFCO make exceptions to any of the application requirements?  
Our office receives many calls and emails from prospective candidates asking if exceptions can be made for age, citizenship, grades, etc. THE ANSWER IS NO. Please do not call our office requesting an exception.
All of the application criteria have been established by the Cuban medical school officials– the entity that makes the scholarship possible. As the sole organization in the US designated by the Cuban Ministry of Health to facilitate the ELAM medical scholarship for US candidates and out of solidarity with Cuba, IFCO respects the criteria established by the school and strictly adheres to all application requirements.

What is the curriculum and course of study of the Latin American School of Medicine?

The standard course of study at the Latin American School of Medicine is seven years.  All classes are taught in Spanish. An additional semester of pre-med coursework is mandatory for all students. Intensive Spanish language training is offered to students who need it, before the start of the six-year course of medical study. The specific course offerings for each semester are listed below. The course of study for the seven year program begins each September; the Spanish intensive course and the pre-med courses are offered in the fall and spring semester respectively

All students spend their first three years of study on the Latin American School of Medicine’s campus, along with all other international students. During these years, the curriculum focuses on the basic medical sciences, and includes some practicum opportunities in neighborhood clinics. The first year of study follows an innovative plan called “morphophysiology,” which integrates the various basic sciences to enhance learning.

Starting the third year of medical study, students are located at one of Cuba’s 21 teaching hospitals, with Cuban and international students. (The US students are located in the City of Havana at the Salvador Allende Faculty of Medicine.) In these advanced years of study, supervised clinical practicum work on the hospital wards is incorporated with classroom and laboratory studies. The sixth year of medical study is the internship year, in which students complete rotations in internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, surgery, and general medicine.

In terms of subject matter, the Cuban medical curriculum corresponds very closely with how medicine is taught in the US. The teaching style, however, is different: the Cuban schools emphasize cooperative rather than competitive learning, smaller class sizes, frequent oral exams, and intensive tutoring to help all students succeed.

What about the pre-med and Spanish classes?

Placement tests are administered to all incoming students to determine proficiency in the medical sciences and in Spanish.

How good does my Spanish have to be?

The Latin American School of Medicine offers a semester of intensive Spanish language training to students who come to the program with little or no Spanish. The Spanish course is offered in the fall semester. Pre-med students who have Spanish proficiency will also receive Spanish classes while they are taking their pre-med courses.
Keep in mind that Spanish language “mastery” involves more than just casual conversational skills; students need to be sufficiently fluent in medical terminology in Spanish so that they can effectively ask, answer and understand questions — in Spanish.
Does the Latin American School of Medicine accept transfer students or offer advanced placement?
In rare cases, admitted students who have completed one or more semesters of medical school training prior to their enrollment at the Latin American School of Medicine may be considered for advanced standing. Evaluations are done on a case-by-case basis, and involve detailed analysis of the students’ prior coursework by the faculty of the Latin American School of Medicine. PLEASE NOTE THAT CANDIDATES MUST STILL BE BETWEEN 18 AND 25. THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS.

How is the academic calendar organized?

The first semester of each school year begins in early September. First-semester exams are generally given in mid-January and followed by a brief recess between semesters. During the recess,  US students focus on practicum work, studies, and preparation for the USMLE licensing exams. Second semester begins in late February or early March (this varies in different academic years); second semester exams are usually given late June or early July.
Students who pass all their examinations on the first try will have vacation from mid-July until the end of August.  (US students are strongly encouraged to use this vacation time for externships, research placements, and preparation for the USMLE exams.)  This is the only official vacation period in the academic calendar. There is a short winter break between semesters, but administrators of the Latin American School of Medicine encourage students not to travel during this short period in the year, as not to lose focus on their studies.

How are exams given?

Frequent oral exams are given in most classes and written mid-term and final examinations are given in all courses. Students who don’t pass a final exam on the first try are given two more weeks to study and get additional tutoring, and then can retake the exam. (This second try is called the “extraordinario.”) Students who don’t pass the extraordinario are able to retake the exam one more time in early August. (The third try is called the “mundial.”) Students who fail two or more mundial exams must repeat the entire academic year. This option to repeat a year can only be used once in the six-year course of study.

Is the Latin American School of Medicine accredited?

The Latin American School of Medicine is fully accredited by the World Health Organization (WHO), the recognized body which confers accreditation to all international schools of medicine.  In the United States, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) oversees licensing requirements for medical students who study in schools outside the US.  The ECFMG fully recognizes any medical school which is certified by its own government’s Ministry of Health. Therefore students who study at the Latin American Medical School are considered by the ECFMG to have received a fully accredited medical education. The Latin American School of Medicine has also been evaluated and fully accredited by the Medical Board of California, which has the most stringent standards of any state in the US. This means that graduates of the Latin American School of Medicine are recognized as fully qualified to apply for medical residency in any state of the US.

Will I be able to practice medicine when I return to the US?

In order to practice medicine in the US, students at the Latin American School of Medicine need to pass a series of US Medical Licensing Exams (USMLEs). These exams are required for all US students who studies in any medical school, whether in the US or in another country. The Step 1 exam is a computer-based multiple-choice exam which focuses on the basic medical sciences. The Step 2CK exam focuses on clinical knowledge.  The Step 2CS exam tests clinical skills: the student actually interacts with model patients in a simulated clinical setting. These Steps can be taken in any order after the second year of medical school, with the written agreement of the dean of the medical school.  Students at the Latin American School of Medicine begin their studies for the USMLEs starting with their first-year courses, and begin to sit for the exams after the third year of study. In addition, each student must complete a residency program in the United States, and must take the Step 3 exam during the residency program.
Careful consideration has been given to the particular needs of US students as they prepare for these essential examinations. Faculty and administrators at the Latin American School of Medicine have analyzed the US Step exams to be sure that all anticipated items are covered in detail in their course offerings. Some slight adjustments have been made in the standard Cuban course sequence to accommodate the special needs of US students (for example, offering Pharmacology in an earlier semester so students can prepare for the Step 1 exam).
In addition, US physicians who are members of IFCO’s Medical School Advisory Committee offer supplementary short courses to the US students, in several subject areas which are included in the Step 1, Step 2CK, and Step 2CS exams, but which are taught from a different perspective in the Cuban curriculum — courses such as Medical Ethics, Legal Medicine, Family Medicine, and Nutrition.
Supplemental study groups are also established for all US students to help prepare them for the Step 1 exam.  These study groups are considered mandatory — even though they are not a formal part of the Cuban curriculum — since all US students will need to be sufficiently prepared to pass the USMLE exams in order to practice in the US.  Resources such as the “First Aid” study guides, sample tests, etc., are being made available to the US students. All students who study medicine in foreign medical schools and wish to practice medicine in the United States also need to complete a medical residency in the US.  Residency placement in the various areas of specialization is a highly competitive process which is based in large part on students’ scores on the USMLE examinations.

What is the attrition rate at the Latin American Medical School?

Since US students first started enrolling in the Latin American School of Medicine in the spring of 2001, about 20% of enrolled students have left the program, and 80% have remained enrolled. This rate is exactly comparable to the attrition rate at any medical school in the US.  Most of the students who have chosen to leave the program have left for personal or family reasons, or because studying medicine in Cuba just wasn’t a good fit for them. Very few have left for academic reasons.

What does the scholarship include?

The scholarship includes full tuition, dormitory housing, three meals per day at the campus cafeteria, textbooks in Spanish for all courses, bedding, and a small monthly stipend in Cuban pesos, school uniform (short-sleeved white lab coat; but you’ll probably want to bring your own dark blue pants (not jeans) or skirts, and your own comfortable black shoes). The scholarship does not include travel expenses to and from school; it does not include the fees for taking the USMLE exams; it does not include costs for supplemental English-language textbooks. IFCO has provided a small library of supplemental English-language medical textbooks for the use of the US students and other students from English-speaking countries.

What about campus life?

Campus life at the Latin American School of Medicine is a vibrant, multi-cultural experience. Daily life is shared with students from more than 124 nations and the richness of this cultural diversity is celebrated by the school. Student delegations from each nationality organize “Culture Night” galas in which they showcase and share their own cultural traditions.
Dormitory accommodations are very spartan. Living conditions are quite modest, and students coming from the so-called ‘first-world’ environment of the US need to be prepared for this. Dormitory rooms have bunk beds and lots of people sharing space; and there are occasional power outages. Three meals a day are provided free of charge at the cafeteria, but the food is very simple: lots of rice and beans. Snack bars and small restaurants on and off campus provide inexpensive meals for a few US dollars or Cuban pesos.
All students are required to live in the dormitories on campus during the first two years of study (and any pre-med semesters). No special accommodations can be made for married students or for students with children.  Please note that NO exceptions are made to this rule.  Students should be prepared to make a number of lifestyle adjustments — to the Spanish-speaking environment, the relative lack of private space, and the spartan living conditions. Students who are open to making these adjustments — and who understand the incomparable value of what is being offered in this unique program — will also find the experience of campus life to be extraordinarily enriching.

How do I communicate with folks at home?

Because of the US economic blockade imposed against Cuba, communications between the two countries are not always easy.  E-mail availability on campus is limited, since many students share access to the campus computing center, where they can sign up for computer time.  Internet access is also available from certain hotels for an hourly fee. Phone cards can be purchased for international calls. Cell phones are available but generally very expensive to use.

Is it legal for the medical students to travel to Cuba?

Yes! — but it is important to understand the context.  As part of the US economic blockade against Cuba, restrictions have been imposed on US citizens’ travel to Cuba.  Students at the Latin American School of Medicine were initially considered exempt from these restrictions, since they were “fully hosted” — with all their expenses paid by the Cuban Ministry of Health.  When President Bush, in an attempt to appeal to ultra-right-wing Cuban-American voters in Florida, tightened restrictions against Cuba in June 2004, the “fully hosted” category was eliminated and the students’ status was threatened. But IFCO launched a tremendous grassroots campaign of calls and letters to the US Treasury and State Departments, and 28 members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses wrote a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, insisting on the students’ right to continue their studies. Our campaign was victorious: the US government granted a special travel authorization for all students enrolled in the Latin American School of Medicine.  Since then, under the Obama administration, travel restrictions for educational purposes have lightened and ELAM students can now travel without the special authorization. Thus, it is fully legal for US ELAM students to travel to and from school.
We continue working for an end to the travel restrictions and all US sanctions against Cuba — and we hope you will join us in this work.

What are the admissions requirements for the Latin American School of Medicine?

Prospective students who wish to be considered for the US scholarship program at the Latin American School of Medicine must be US citizens (with a US passport), BETWEEN THE AGE OF 18 AND 25 AT THE TIME OF MATRICULATION with proficiency of B- or better in college-level sciences (a minimum of one year each of biology, physics, general/inorganic chemistry, and organic chemistry (all with lab), and a commitment to practice medicine in low-income and medically under-served communities in the US after graduation. Persons of color and/or persons from low-income backgrounds are especially encouraged to apply.
Applicants must submit an application form, personal essays in English and Spanish, transcripts, letters of reference, medical history, and other documents.  A personal interview is required; MCATs are not required. Applications are screened by IFCO’s Medical School Advisory Committee, which is made up of physicians, professors, and other professionals.  Selected applicants will be invited to participate in a two-day group orientation program, which serves as an additional step in the screening process.  When the Medical School Advisory Committee has made its final recommendations, the files of selected applicants are submitted to the administrators of the Latin American Medical School and the Cuban Ministry of Public Health; they make the final admissions decisions.
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