Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cuba Is Land of Opportunity for New York Medical Student

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Cuba Is Land of Opportunity for New York Medical Student

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

HAVANA -- Khalil Eric Marshall could have chosen to inflict suffering upon his New York City neighborhood. Instead, he's chosen to preserve life there.

Recently, the 20-year-old Harlem native became one of eight United States students who took Cuba up on its offer for a free medical education at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana. The school, which trains and exports doctors to developing countries where foreign aid often fattens the pockets of despots before fueling human needs, made the offer about a year ago.

I met Marshall last week during a visit to Cuba with a group of journalists, filmmakers and academicians. He said an aunt who had traveled to Cuba told him about the medical program and he applied. The U.S. embargo allows Americans to pursue formal courses of study at Cuban institutions.

Being accepted to the school gave Marshall an escape from New York -- and from friends who were pressuring him to pick a gang instead of a college or career.

"My friend had joined a gang, and he kept trying to get me to join," said Marshall, who also spent two years in the Navy. "I just figured that he really wasn't my friend after all."

But his escape will be temporary. When he returns, Marshall said he'll be returning to his old neighborhood -- in hopes of ultimately working at Harlem Hospital.

That's the point, actually.

Among other requirements, such as good grades, at least a year of college and financial need, students in the medical program must commit themselves to work in the impoverished neighborhoods that they left behind; neighborhoods in which mistrust, low self-esteem and cultural barriers impede public health as much as poverty does.

Marshall couldn't have picked a better country from which to learn how to help communities that are ravaged by such problems.

In spite of the collapse of the Soviet empire that once subsidized it, Cuba still manages to provide free health care to its 11 million people. Cuba also manages in spite of embargo hurdles from the United States, which controls 80 percent of the world's pharmaceutical markets. …

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