Wednesday, September 06, 2006

No embargo: local woman studying medicine in Cuba

Medical student earning degree free of charge in Cuba


Date published: 9/5/2006

SHE STUDIES in sunny Cuba, a destination that is illegal for a vast majority of Americans.

This fall, Janice Verbosky, 23, of Spotsylvania County will enjoy the warm weather of the island nation along with a medical school education at no cost.

After taking pre-med courses in the spring, Verbosky is heading to Cuba for her first year at the Latin American School of Medicine, known as ELAM, which is its Spanish acronym.

Tuition, books, food, room and board are all free, based on an unwritten contract between students and the school. It's a deal that in Verbosky's opinion offers "no worries about student loans."

"On your honor you go back to your own country and help people for five years," Verbosky said.

Verbosky attended a college- preparatory high school in New Jersey before her family moved to Virginia.

She spent 10 months in Spain after graduating from the University of Virginia in three years with a double major in biology and Spanish. Before leaving the university, she found a flier for an interest meeting on studying medicine in Cuba and decided to attend.

Verbowsky later found out about ELAM and the full scholarship opportunity. This, combined with the "tantalizing thought" of studying in Cuba, got her set on the school.

ELAM was her first choice for medical school. She wants a bilingual medical career as a medical missionary. Verbosky recalled a time when she volunteered at a medical clinic in Fredericksburg; by the end of the summer she was translating for doctors and patients.

At ELAM, Cuban professors teach in Spanish, and texts are typically in Spanish as well.

She's allowed to take 50 pounds of baggage to Cuba, but she'll be sure to bring her laptop.

Verbosky shares a room of bunk beds with 17 other girls; a small closet and footlocker are all she gets for storage. "All necessities are there at school so you can live on just that," she said.

Of 7,200 international students enrolled in the first two years of the program, Verbosky estimates that 30 of those individuals are Americans.

Since Cuba is a communist country, the government pays for education. This includes ELAM's programs with domestic and international students.

"Some people were shocked," Verbosky said of reactions to her grad school choice. "A lot of people thought I would just be indoctrinated and come back communist."

The U.S. has had a trade embargo and travel restrictions on Cuba since the 1960s, but Verbosky said she doesn't really feel the effects of tension between the U.S. and Cuba.

She believes that Cubans welcome Americans with open arms but are upset about the lack of trade. "A lot of Cubans are quick to say they have nothing against the American population," she said.

When it comes to the government, Verbosky doesn't feel affected either. Students can get involved in political activity at their own discretion, but she chooses not to.

"I've got no political agenda; I'm not interested in politics," she said. "We don't have any communist classes--there's no indoctrination at all; we're learning the medical sciences."

In her third year of the six-year program she plans on increasing clinical work at a hospital in Havana, the nation's capital.

She said she can practice medicine in the U.S. if she passes a certification exam for foreign medical students along with standard medical exams for American students.

After graduation, Verbosky wants to work in the U.S. to fulfill her five-year service commitment to ELAM and eventually go back overseas.

"I'd like to go back to Latin America," she said.

To reach COREY BYERS: 540/735-1976


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