Fidel’s name was repeated often during celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the first graduation of doctors and dentists trained by the Revolution, who received their diplomas atop Mt. Cuba in the Sierra Maestra, November 14, 1965.
Today, many health care professionals remember the interest shown by the leader of the Cuban Revolution in their studies, always alert to their living conditions, and those of classrooms.
Fidel visited classes in progress, and reviewed bibliographies to make sure they were the most up to date. In meetings with students, he asked about difficulties, and encouraged them to stay strong, not give up, sharing his vision of what Cuban medicine could become.
The emigration of half of the country’s doctors after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 was overcome. Students with the best academic careers took on teaching tasks after graduation, and helped establish new medical schools.
The first group of graduates, some 400 doctors and 26 dentists, wanted to honor the martyrs of the country’s liberation struggle and receive their diplomas where the Rebel Army fought. Their desire was to follow in the footsteps of those young people who made the January 1, 1959 victory possible.
Fidel supported the initiative, and boarded the train which departed from the capital November 6 and at several principal stops along the route east. He wanted to interact with the young doctors and motivate them to devote themselves fully to the work they were about to undertake. In Holguín, they inaugurated the Vladimir Ilich Lenin Hospital, which had been constructed with the collaboration of the Soviet Union.
Upon receiving their degrees, the graduates promised to renounce the private practice of medicine; extend the standard social service period to two or three years; continue to develop their professional skills and knowledge; promote preventative medicine; and be prepared to offer solidarity to any people in need.
Their efforts have contributed to the accomplishments of Cuba’s public health system which today has produced an impressive infant mortality rate of 4.2 for every 1,000 live births; the reduction of maternal deaths (35.1 for every 100 000 births); and increased life expectancy to 79 years of age. Those over 80 today represent 18.3% of the Cuban population, a figure which is expected to reach 30% by 2030.
Of this historic group, 227 worked as specialists in different areas; three became Professors of Merit; almost all have held teaching positions; some 50 completed advanced degrees; and nine became research leaders. Some 60 have served on international missions, and about a 100 have been directors at different levels of the country’s public health system.
Filling the anniversary activities were warm embraces, questions about an absent classmate, anecdotes from the years gone by, the desire to share a recollection of Fidel on that historic day, leading the group up the slopes and surprising them with ice cream at the summit.
An important event during the first graduates’ anniversary celebration was their meeting with Cuban doctors who collaborated in the struggle against Ebola in West Africa, members of the Henry Reeve Contingent, specialized in emergency situations.
The graduates additionally visited Calixto García University Hospital, where they were trained, and received an update on the nation’s recent medical progress, to which they have contributed so much.
In recognition of their accomplishments and efforts made to save human lives, several outstanding individuals were honored with certificates presented by Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda; José Ramón Balaguer, head of the Party’s international affairs department; University of Havana Rector Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez; and other government leaders.
Colleagues of this first generation of doctors trained by the Revolution called them “Profe” and thanked them for passing on their knowledge. They became the paradigm for those who followed, who are practicing medicine today.