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Cuba will train Detroit doctors
As Detroit Public School students affected by school closings try and figure out the best routes to new destinations, two former DPS attendees are getting ready for a much longer trip on their first day of class.

Chinere Knight and Ese Agari, both Cass Technical High School graduates, were recently accepted to the free scholarship program at the world renowned Latin American School of Medicine (LASM) in Havana, Cuba.

Knight and Agari will join about 16 other students from around the country who will receive a medical degree without submitting to the enormous debt most med school graduates incur in the United States.

Chinere Knight first heard of Cubas reputation as a leader in the medical field from her mother, Desiree Ferguson, who had visited Cuba for an international lawyers conference as co-chair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers in 2001.

"I had met several medical students, including many from Ghana, and was very excited about what I saw," Ferguson told the Michigan Citizen.

Chinere Knights dueling passions for medicine and research make her a perfect candidate for medical school. She was involved in extensive plant behavior studies at Cass Tech and during her undergraduate studies at Howard University. She also spent a summer researching breast cancer at the Karmanos Institute. But its her sense of civic duty that makes her a candidate for medical school in Cuba.

Volunteering in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina disaster fostered Knights perspective on the social responsibility taken on by medical professionals. She spent time conducting interviews with volunteers to record their experiences and took up an independent study on the protocol of FEMA and its sluggish response.

"It showed you that, yes, we are in America and we have all these resources, but once you go through the bureaucracy and you go through the prejudice and the bias, you might not get the assistance that you should," says Knight.

The Latin American School of Medicine was conceived in 1999 as a way to train doctors from areas in Latin America and the Caribbean which were hard hit by Hurricanes Mitch and George the previous year.

Cuba offered 500 full scholarships to medical school candidates from each of the four hardest hit countries with the stipulation that graduates return to their countries of origin to serve in impoverished communities. Cuba now reserves spaces for students from countries all over the world, including 250 scholarships earmarked for students from under served communities in the U.S.

"You have an obligation to work, when you come back to the U.S., in an underrepresented community, where theres need." Knight told the Michigan Citizen during a recent interview. "And you dedicate yourself to that for your entire career. I said, thats not a problem, I do that anyway."

According to the World Health Organization, Cuba has twice as many physicians per capita as the United States and the infant mortality rate is less than most cities in the United States.

A recent New England Journal of Medicine article ("Affirmative Action, Cuban Style" 12/23/2004) cited health indicators in Cuba being "on par with those in the most developed nations." In the spirit of service, Cuba has sent thousands of doctors and medical professionals to serve in the poorest areas of Latin America and Africa.

Knights application process began just this past December, but has been extremely rigorous and driven by more liberal criteria.

"They look more towards your character and what inspires you to go there," says Knight.

Students on their way to LASM are aware of the effect the costs of medical school in most countries can have on the rest of your career. Application fees alone can discourage prospective students from pursuing a path in medicine.

"You can start off real high-spirited and passionate and want to help people" I believe that most doctors have that spirit," says Knight. "But after you go through all of the debt you accrue in undergrad and in medical school, and then if you want a private practice you have to pay the insurance premiums."

Pastors for Peace and the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), coordinators for the LASM scholarship program here in the U.S., are brother organizations created to "advance the struggles of oppressed people for justice and self-determination."

They have been conducting the delivery of humanitarian aid to Cuba since 1988 through 'friend-shipments, in defiance of the U.S. economic embargo. According to the IFCO website, nearly 100 U.S. students are currently receiving medical training at the Latin American Medical School.

According to Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, who has been active in getting the program attention in the Detroit area, Knight and Agari are the first students from the Midwest.

"I am thrilled beyond words that two young people from this community have been accepted and met the requirements and have been courageous enough to see the vision of what can be available to them and to our community," Councilwoman Watson said.

Chinere Knights time in Cuba will span almost seven years but with her return we can expect a much needed doctor to Detroit, whos committed to serving the community first.

"If we do want to improve our level of health and eradicate diabetes and hypertension, than we need to figure out some alternative way to do it," says Knight. "I think Cubas medical system offers that."

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