HAVANA, Cuba — The Jamaican medical system will be boosted by the injection of 68 newly trained medical doctors within weeks.
The Jamaican doctors graduated from the Medical Faculty of the University of Santiago de Cuba last Tuesday in a short and spicy ceremony that lasted an hour and 13 minutes, much less than any of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean.
And while there were no elaborate verbal utterances by those authorised to speak, the ceremony was resplendent with fascinating oral and cultural presentations, that saved the hundreds who witnessed it from boredom.
The Jamaicans started their course of study in November 2006 with 70 students under the Cuban education assistance programme, but two returned to the island by year-end for personal reasons.
Of the 68 graduates in an overall field of 717, including 373 Cubans, almost half the number of Jamaicans walked away with first class honours.
The majority of them will return home by late August to begin another phase of their medical journey and will be based at leading hospitals across the island for their internship — Kingston Public, Cornwall Regional, Spanish Town, and St Ann's Bay.
Dr Matthew Lloyd O'Connor, 26, emerged the most outstanding foreign student from a group of 344. The Lilliput, St James resident, who attended Cornwall College, spoke on behalf of the foreign students, hailing the Cuban medical and education systems and expressing gratitude for the hospitality and kindness of the Cuban people.
"We will try to use the knowledge gained to improve health care in Jamaica," O'Connor told the Jamaica Observer afterwards.
"In my own case, I will be working closely with my community to give back, because one of the principles of the Cuban system is giving back," said the Cornwall College head boy from 2005 to 2006.
The Jamaican doctors, dressed in laboratory coats, were greeted with loud cheers as they went up to be recognised for their outstanding work.
"They are good students," said Professor Juan Carlos Sanchez, who teaches Medical English at the university and who has served as an interpreter for Jamaican delegations over the years.
"The Jamaicans are very popular and they are nice kids. I get on well with them," he said.
Unlike the typical Jamaican graduation, the mode of dress of the medical school ranged from lounge suit to casual wear, including T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and caps.