Representatives from The University of Texas at Dallas and UT Southwestern recently traveled to Havana to meet with the president of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine and officials from the University of Havana to investigate establishing two- to four-week “observerships” in which faculty from both Texas universities would visit laboratories and classes to see how Cubans approach research and clinical care training.
Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science; Dr. Magaly Spector, assistant to the provost for strategic initiatives and professor in practice at UT Dallas; Dr. Nora Gimpel, associate professor and chief of community health at UT Southwestern; and Erica Asante of the UT Southwestern Office of Global Health met with Dr. Antonio Lopez Gutierrez, president of the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM), to learn more about the medical school and discuss potential areas for collaboration.
“The Jonsson School has a number of exchange agreements with universities around the world,” said Spong, holder of the Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering and Excellence in Education Chair. “The opportunity to foster a collaborative relationship with ELAM is exciting. It would bring a new dimension to our international collaborations.”
During the meeting, Spong and Gimpel gave overviews of the bioengineering program at UT Dallas and family medicine efforts at UT Southwestern, respectively.
It was a rare visit among faculty from The University of Texas System and Cuba’s top medical school, which has more than 20,000 students from over 100 countries. The school occupies a former naval base that Fidel Castro transformed in the late 1990s into a global medical school for qualified students, regardless of national origin.
The trip also included meetings with ELAM’s director of research and investigations, Maria Adelaida Sareigo Riumbau, and the director of foreign affairs, Dunia Cribeiro Gregores. Faculty also met with U.S. students studying at ELAM, three of whom are from Texas.
“We are very proud to initiate these talks,” Gutierrez said. “We look forward to implementing concrete steps toward a partnership.”
Cuba, which boasts a patient-to-doctor ratio of 150 to 1, prides itself on educating doctors focused on public health and the more humanistic practices of traditional medicine (e.g., the physical exam) that can sometimes be overlooked in more technologically advanced settings, Gutierrez said.
Both UT Dallas and UT Southwestern have been invited back for a second visit in the fall to discuss the possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding that may involve hosting Cuban researchers in Texas, as well.
Spector, who has overseen the development of University programs in Cuba over the last several years, led the trip. In the past, Spector has led delegations from the Naveen Jindal School of Management (JSOM) and the School of Arts and Humanities to Cuba. JSOM has a number of programs aimed at exposing students and faculty to the business environments and socio-cultural dynamics of emerging markets in countries such as China, India, South Africa, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Mexico, Poland and Estonia.
Despite a recent shift in the United States’ evolving Cuba policy, educational trips of this kind remain unrestricted.
“We look forward to seeing what the future holds,” Spector said. “The fact that our institutions came together to discuss a doable and mutually beneficial exchange is a milestone.”
UT Dallas, July 20, 2017