U.S. Med Students Study For Free In Cuba

Evelyn Erickson tends to a patient as a medical student in Cuba.
It's graduation day at the world's largest medical school. Among the sea of 2,000 graduates in lab coats are eight Americans, CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reports, new doctors educated in Communist Cuba.

Evelyn Erickson is from Washington Heights in New York City. She was lured to Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine by the promise of a free education — a gift of sorts from the Cuban government.

Fidel Castro started the school in 1999. His goal was to train people at no cost, in return for their pledge to practice medicine in poor communities back home — an offer extended to a handful of U.S. students in 2001.

It's a world away from the United States. Home for Evelyn and her fellow students was an old army barracks with bunk beds, cold showers and a four-dollar-a-month stipend. And, unlike the U.S. where students spend four years in classrooms and labs, these students spend six years in classrooms and clinics.

"They were calling me doctor, and I was like, 'No, no I'm not the doctor. I'm the medical student,'" Evelyn says. "But what happens is that we are the people who examine the patients from the very beginning."

They also learn about a much different healthcare system, which was documented in the recent Michael Moore film Sicko, where all services are free and everyone is covered.

"I was one of the people that was there translating for these patients when they came here to Cuba, and so I was actually there hearing their story," Evelyn says. "And I think it proposed a really good question about looking at our medical system and seeing what kinds of things we need to change."

Still, Cuba is no healthcare paradise. The hospitals are crumbling, doctors make about 20 dollars a month and there are shortages of almost everything from drugs to high-tech equipment.

Cobiella asks Evelyn if she thinks she'll be accepted as a doctor back in the U.S. with an education from Cuba.

"I think so," Evelyn says. "I would like to believe that we will be."

Evelyn and her fellow graduates face one final hurdle before they can practice in the United States: passing the U.S. medical board exams. But by the looks on their faces, they're not worried a bit.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.