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Training a Future Generation: A Cuban Medical Resident’s Knack for Orthopedics

Ernesto is 28 years old and like many other Cubans has never really been outside his country. There is no longer a travel ban that prohibits Cubans from going abroad, but visas to exit the country are still costly in a nation where the average monthly salary is around $25 per month.

When he was younger, Ernesto wanted to be a lawyer. His dad is a lawyer in Havana, Cuba, where he and his family live, and like many young boys, he wanted to be just like his dad. He’ll never forget what his dad told him about going into the workforce: “Being a lawyer you can make a lot of enemies. Do something that enables you to help humanity.” His mom’s advice was just as impactful – she wanted him to become a doctor, and so, that’s what Ernesto did.

It’s been 10 years since Ernesto chose the medical field at age 18. After high school, he went to medical school for six years and originally planned to be a cardiologist, but no Cuban hospitals were in need of a cardiologist.

“I had to pick orthopedics.”
The Cuban government runs a national health system, covering health care for its citizens, and all health services are government-run. While Cubans have access to general care, specialty healthcare in the country is much harder to come by as few doctors and surgeons have the training or instruments of those in the United States.

Four years ago, Ernesto chose orthopedics as his specialty. It wasn’t his top choice, and he knew the training would be challenging because of the lack of surgeons in his field, but he knew the need for orthopedic surgery in Cuba was extremely high. During his residency he did rotations in other specialties so he has a strong medical background.

“I’ve seen firsthand how arthroplasty can improve the lives of people, so I know it’s important to train to do

something that will help people live better lives and be able to work and care for their families,” he says.

“It’s incredible to learn new techniques.”

In 2016 Operation Walk Pittsburgh came to Havana and for the first time Ernesto had the chance to learn the latest orthopedic surgical techniques alongside skilled surgeons. He spent long hours each day in the operating room, picking up new skills and mastering new technology. In 2017 Operation Walk Carolinas came to Havana and again Ernesto spent long hours becoming an expert in surgical techniques, using tools and instruments he’d never seen before because they are not available in Cuba. He trained with different surgeons to learn different approaches to hip and knee replacements, and even led a knee arthroplasty on his own for the very first time.

Alejandra Madrid
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