Javier’s Story

by Dr. Gregory Bartha

November 29, 2015


Javier was educated in Belize. He got an associate degree in biology and chemistry after high school and then applied to the Latin American Medical School in Cuba. He was interviewed and accepted at this school. All training, housing, food and textbooks are free for the students. The first two to three years are spent in Havana, where Spanish and basic sciences are taught. The students then go to the provinces for clinical training. The period of study lasts for seven years, and then there is a final exam. Students who pass (about 90%) return to their home countries and must work there in medicine for at least seven years.

At any one time, about 5000 students are studying in the Havana campus. It really is a self-contained small city with all services available. The compound is fenced, and students are allowed out only on weekends. The students come mainly from Latin America, but Africa is also represented. Several hundred are from Mexico, Belize, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras. About 50% are women. Minorities are actively recruited. All lecturers are Cuban, and Javier states that the quality of teaching is very good. The students take their courses in groups of 50. They sleep in dormitory style housing, 16 to a room.

Javier finished medical school and did one year of internship at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City. In whatever free time he had, he worked with Dr. Beatriz Thompson, who heads the Belize Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation. She also trained in Cuba and did additional work in pain management in Mexico. She is an anesthesiologist at the Heusner Memorial Hospital. She runs the hospice and palliative care program with only volunteers assisting her. Now Javier has received a six-month government grant to pay his salary while he works with Dr. Thompson.

I worked alongside Javier and the volunteers for two weeks. We visited patients in their homes, changed dressings, debrided pressure sores, provided pain medication, including morphine, and gave out adult diapers, absorbent pads, hospital beds and oxygen concentrators.  Most clients are cancer patients, the majority suffering from advanced ovarian, colon and breast tumors. The team also emphasizes spiritual care. Members pray for the patients and sing hymns. The visits are really acts of love and faith.

Javier is a most dedicated and compassionate physician. He is an eager learner and has recently returned from a palliative care conference in Barbados. He hopes to pursue additional training in palliative care and oncology in the UK.

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