When Pasha Jackson graduates from med school, he won't have to worry about student loans cramping his style.
He'll be debt-free because he studies at the Latin American Medical School in Havana, Cuba.
Pasha Jackson, a former football player from Oakland, California, is one of over 100 Americans and 10,000 students who attend the school, known as ELAM.
Why Cuba? Well, it doesn't hurt that the Cuban government is paying for his entire medical-school education, room, and board — a hefty expense that typically costs about $50,000 a year in the U.S., saddling graduates with $175,000 in debt on average.
"Receiving this gift from a country who already does not have a lot, there's no way that I'm going to return back to United States and just take any job. I want to be able to give myself to the very communities who are under-served." — Pasha Jackson
But he's not the only scholarship winner. ELAM funds tuition and living costs for international students who excel academically and are mostly from low-income communities.
Wow! But waaait. Funding six years of medical school for thousands is a huge investment for "one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere." So what's in it for them?
Cuba has a history of working to expand healthcare access in low-income areas.
Former school director Dr. Maritza Gonzalez Bravo explains:
"The school's aim is to create a pool of physicians for public service in disadvantaged rural and urban areas around the world." — Dr. Maritza Gonzalez Bravo
According Dr. Melissa Barber, an ELAM alum and U.S. coordinator for the scholarship program, the idea to fund U.S. students came after the Congressional Black and Latino Caucuses visited Cuba. They saw that “within every 10-block radius there is a doctor." They wanted the same access for low-income families in the states. So they brainstormed with Fidel Castro. He extended the opportunity to Americans in 2001.
Since the school opened in 1999, there's been over 7,000 graduates from 45 countries. They're learning from Cuba's fleet of 350,000 health care professionals who specialize in medical diplomacy.
Cuban doctors play a huge role in the government's larger global outreach effort. In 2014, hundreds of doctors flew to West Africa to combat Ebola. Cuba also sent over 600 medical workers to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
It's the country's history of outreach that made Pasha's scholarship offer more attractive. It is also personal. He told Havana's CubaDebate that it was Cuban doctors who helped his family who were affected during Hurricane Katrina.
Now it's Cuba's hands-on approach and sense of service that Pasha will continue, when he graduates debt-free.
To learn more about his story and the ELAM program, check out the video below.
Wanna apply? Here's a handy guide.