José A. de la Osa
IN mid-1960, 18 months after the triumph of the Revolution, came an event of unquestionable historic significance in terms of medical teaching: the resignation en masse of 141 professors from the University of Havana’s Faculty of Medicine, the only one in the country, an evident barrier to attaining the revolutionary proposition of universalizing the teaching of Medicine with a high degree of social commitment.
This action was the result of a call by internal counterrevolutionaries stimulated by the United States who, in the wake of the first measures taken by the revolutionary government, also attempted to deliver a fatal blow to the teaching of Medicine.
In order to assess the existing situation in its full dimension, one must add the exodus to the United States of approximately 3,000 doctors (of 6,000 in the country) in the early years of the Revolution, which prompted a reflection on the part of Fidel at the inauguration of the Victoria de Girón Basic and Pre-clinical Institute in Havana.
"One of the most despicable actions that imperialism has taken against our homeland is the policy of bribing doctors and trying to take them from Cuba," he stated.
With a clear vision and humanist sentiment, the maximum leader of the Revolution then outlined the future direction of Cuban public health and assured that the country’s universities would gradually grow, with students numbering tens of thousands and an increasingly experienced professional staff, through the creative work of the Revolution as it advanced.
With the growing and massive entry of medical students into universities, these visionary proposals became a colossal undertaking, training health professionals and technicians, capable of responding to the requirements of the health system and to international cooperation.
The resignation of the University of Havana’s Faculty of Medicine members produced the valiant response of 15 eminent professors who, with a truly patriotic attitude, remained in their positions, thus constituting the initial nucleus which incorporated a group of young, capable doctors who immediately assumed teaching responsibilities.
Along this road with no turning back, the need for a large number of qualified professionals and technicians qualified to respond to the ambitious health programs obliged the constant creation and development of an educational sub-system for the training of human resources.
This made it possible for enrollments in higher medical education to grow. From 1974 to 1977, more than 1,000 doctors graduated every year. The number surpassed 2,000 for the first time in 1983, exceeding 3,000 in 1986.
In the period 1990-1995 the graduate totals were in excess of 4,000, rising to 5,000 in 2011 and 10,359 in 2012, the largest in Cuba’s history.
The fruits of the titanic efforts developed in the training of health professionals and technical personnel are visible. Suffice it to note that currently Cuba has 13 Medical Science universities and three independent faculties in Artemisa, Mayabeque and the Isle of Youth, plus the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), with a total staff of 37,500 professors. This grand spectrum of academic instruction includes a wide network of teaching hospitals and polyclinics.
With these resources it has been possible, from 1961 through 2013, to train more than 130,000 doctors in Cuban universities.
The introduction of the concept of universalizing medical teaching through linking medical students to teaching hospitals or polyclinics throughout their training has confirmed the great contribution to public health on the part of the Revolution, making the ambitious educational programs developed in Medical Science a reality, and leading to the massive nature and excellence of training programs for personnel in this sphere.
Thus, it would be just to affirm that, undoubtedly, the Revolution took "the University of Havana stairway to all the country’s municipalities," by making a tangible reality of Fidel’s vision of the future.
Academic year 2013-2014
According to preliminary data, the current academic year has an enrollment of 88,694 students in Medical Science, within two levels of higher education: universities with 13 majors, and technical colleges, with 24. In the six-year Medical course alone, enrollment has risen to 47,433 (36,923 Cuban students and 10,510 from 128 other countries. The 13 Medical Science majors include Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Health Technology (a new course), Clinical Bio-analysis, Hygiene and Epidemiology, Medical Imaginology and Radiophysics, Logo-Audiology, Nutrition, Optometry, Health Rehabilitation, Information Systems in Health and Psychology.
MEDICAL GRADUATIONS IN CUBA (1959-2013)
Year Graduates Year Graduates Year Graduates
1959-60 728 (*) 1979 683 1998 2271
1961 335 1980 764 1999 2308
1962 434 1981 1012 2000 1840
1963 334 1982 1087 2001 1765
1964 312 1983 2114 2002 1836
1965 395 1984 1945 2003 1933
1966 380 1985 2551 2004 1960
1967 433 1986 3041 2005 3708
1968 616 1987 2841 2006 3881
1969 940 1988 3401 2007 4180
1970 700 1989 3734 2008 4399
1971 432 1990 4223 2009 4488
1972 853 1991 4241 2010 4149
1973 951 1992 4583 2011 5463
1974 1269 1993 4780 2012 10539
1975 1361 1994 4627 2013 9612
1976 1477 1995 4019 Total 134 401
1977 1105 1996 3534
1978 579 1997 3255
(*)Includes two promotions. Yearbook of Health Statistics.