Update from US Student Joanne Mae Souers, studying medicine in Cuba

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Joanne Mae Souers, a New York State resident studying medicine at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Havana, sent us this report on her activities:

Dr. Nelson Gonzalez on Rounds

Dr. Nelson Gonzalez on Rounds

The Hospital is Our Classroom; The Patient is Our Professor

As third year students at the Latin American School of Medicine the hospital is our classroom and the patients are our professors. We spend our days practicing patient histories and physical exams to tune and then retune our clinical skills.  Students from the U.S. and several Latin American countries rotate at Hospital Salvador Allende in central Havana.   Students from all over the world can be found at teaching hospitals all across Cuba.

Our first semester focuses on clinical medicine, physical exams, and the relationship built between the doctor and the patient.   This is where we step out of the classroom and into the “operating” room as they might say; where medicine starts with “hello.”  From the minute your patient walks in the door, you are required to take notes on what signs and symptoms they might reveal to help you develop a good differential diagnosis.

Currently, I am at the Antonio Guiteras Unit of Internal Medicine run by Dr. Nelson Gonzales, a Specialist in Internal Medicine.  Every day we are tested on our knowledge of the pathological alterations in the physical exam. We see patients, go on rounds and learn first-hand how a patient is received, examined, diagnosed and treated throughout their stay.

I find our exposure to patients and first-hand clinical experience a essential counterpart to our classroom knowledge.  We are constantly applying our skills and seeing new clinical cases.  Recently we were addressing cases of dengue fever to control and quarantine a small outbreak in Havana and now we are focusing primarily on cases of suspected H1N1 influenza in adults with compromised health status.

If that isn’t enough patient exposure, fear not, we are on a weekly rotation at the hospital’s walk-in clinic where we see “walk-in” cases and learn from doctors making quick, accurate diagnostic calls.  Some of these cases are automatically hospitalized if they come in with severe health conditions requiring admission to the intensive care unit or those who present public health risks and need to be quarantined.  Examples of cases quarantined are those who present fever from areas endemic to dengue or present symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and pertain to one of the three risk groups of H1N1: pregnant women, children and/or patients with respiratory illnesses.

me behind the mask

Medical Student Souers

I look forward to my third year at the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba, where we learn to practice medicine on the bases of altruism, honor and sacrifice as a commitment to society.  It is the patient that teaches us medicine; it is the hospital that sets the stage.   Dr. Nelson Gonzales profoundly states that he is not such an altruistic being just based on character, but because of his formation as a doctor in Cuba.

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4 Responses to “Update from US Student Joanne Mae Souers, studying medicine in Cuba”


  1. 1Marcia Williams

    my dayghter is doing the same thing and is in her third year also only that its 3 hrs outside of Havana. she is quire enthusiastic about her studies. Continue to do well. regardless of what others think about cuba

  2. 2Dad

    “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” – — Barack Obama

  3. 3Dad

    “Perhaps it is that high achievements demand some other unusual qualification besides an unusual desire for high prizes . . .” George Elliot

  4. 4Jenny O'Grady Giddy

    Inspiring. Thank you Joanne.

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