The Venezuelan Ministry of University Education has launched a national plan to provide more teaching equipment and extra classes to students of Comprehensive Community Medicine (MIC), in order to continue strengthening the trailblazing medical education program.
In an act held in Caracas last week with 122 MIC students in their fifth year of study, higher education ministry officials handed out sets of otolaryngology (study of the ear, nose and throat) equipment. The teaching material is currently being distributed nationwide.
“On behalf of all students, or as our much-missed comandante [Hugo Chavez] used to call us, the army of white jackets…thank you for giving us this equipment,” said Alis Montilla, spokesperson of the 5th year MIC students present.
Alejandra Reyes, the vice president of academic development at the ministry, explained that in addition to the equipment the national plan to strengthen comprehensive community medicine will include a special program of lectures and conferences for students.
Along with more equipment and classes, the MIC program has been improved in recent years by having students begin hospital internships from their third year of study and introducing a set of specialized workshops for students in their final two years of the program.
The minister of university education, Pedro Calzadilla, hailed the progress made since the MIC program was established in 2005.
“The task of [building] comprehensive community medicine was begun by [late President Hugo] Chavez in 2005; it is one of the great feats that seemed impossible, as we didn’t then have infrastructure. We were asked how we were going to do it, and now we have”.
The MIC program was founded in 2005 through an agreement between Hugo Chavez and then-Cuban president Fidel Castro. Under the agreement, Cuban doctors working in Venezuela through the Barrio Adentro health program would train up to 30,000 Venezuelan doctors to cover the long-term needs of the newly expanded public health system.
The tuition-free program is different from traditional U.S.-style medical courses because in addition to training in the medical sciences, students are brought into contact with patients and communities from the first year of their six year degree.
Hugo Chavez was a strong supporter of the MIC program, referring to the new generation of trainee doctors as “doctors of socialism” and urging them to be community leaders. As a result graduates are expected to have a commitment free, public healthcare and treating the health needs of poorer communities.
So far over 14,000 doctors have graduated from the program, and Minister Calzadilla announced that a further 8,250 will graduate at the end of this year. Further, since his election in April President Nicolas Maduro has committed to graduating a total of 60,000 community doctors by 2019 in order to fully cover the needs of the public health system.
“We must commit ourselves to this task the president has given us,” said Calzadilla, adding, “We’re checking our capacity, equipment, resources, [and] establishing how we can fulfill this task”.
President Maduro has further ordered that the government ensure training for a greater number of health professionals in a range of disciplines for the public health system, such as bio-analysts, radiographers, nurses, dentist, optometrists, and physiotherapists.
Postgraduate education is also being prepared for the community doctors who graduated in 2011 and are finishing their obligatory residencies in the public system.
The government has recently introduced a range of policies to improve the public health system, after critics said services were being affected in some cases by a lack of medical supplies.
Measures taken in response include setting up a new state company to liaise with the private sector in the supply of medical materials and equipment, plans to renovate hospital infrastructure, and an increase in doctors’ pay by 75%.
As of 2012 there are 58 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants in Venezuela, compared with 18 per 1o,000 when the Bolivarian government was elected to power in 1998.