Cuban medical training for South African students: a mixed methods study

X.C. Sui, P. Reddy, A. Nyembezi, P. Naidoo, K. Chalkidou, N. Squires, S. Ebrahim*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BackgroundAchieving universal health care coverage will require greater investment in primary health care, particularly in rural and underserved populations in low and middle-income countries. South Africa has invested in training black students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Cuba and large numbers of these Cuban-trained students are now returning for final year and internship training in South Africa. There is controversy about the scheme, the quality and relevance of training received and the place of Cuban-trained doctors in the health care system. Exploring the experiences of Cuban- and South African-trained students, recent graduates and medical school faculty may help understand and resolve the current controversy.MethodsUsing a mixed methods approach, in-depth interviews and a focus group discussion were held with deans of medical schools, senior faculty, and Cuban-trained and South African-trained students and recent graduates. An online structured questionnaire, adapted from the USA medical student survey, was developed and administered to Cuban- and South African-trained students and recent graduates.ResultsSouth African students trained in Cuba have had beneficial experiences which orientate them towards primary health care and prevention. Their subsequent training in South Africa is intended to fill skill gaps related to TB, HIV and major trauma. However this training is ad hoc and variable in duration and demoralizing for some students. Cuban-trained students have stronger aspirations than those trained in South Africa to work in rural and underserved communities from which many of them are drawn.ConclusionAttempts to assimilate returning Cuban-trained students will require a reframing of the current negative narrative by focusing on positive aspects of their training, orientation towards primary care and public health, and their aspirations to work in rural and under-served urban areas. Cuban-trained doctors could be part of the solution to South Africa's health workforce problems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number216
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medical Education
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2019


  • cuba
  • education
  • health
  • medical education
  • mixed methods
  • primary health care
  • south africa
  • universal health coverage
  • Mixed methods
  • Primary health care
  • Universal health coverage
  • Cuba
  • Medical education
  • South Africa


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