In the decades since the Cuban revolutions the country's medical doctors famously served on many semi-official missions abroad. For instance, it has been reported that Venezuela under Hugo Chavez provided cheap oil to the island, while the Castros sent their doctors (as well as sports instructors) in return. Cuban physicians effectively became an important export article.

Was this special national ability the result of deliberate planning or tradition on the island (an earlier versions of some emerging countries' current efforts on providing offshore medical services or an upscale version of nurses from the Philippines, perhaps) or did it just emerge as a by-product of a socialist state's common tendency to put relatively much effort on basic services such as medical care? The Wikipedia article on Cuban medical internationalism goes into many details, but is relatively light on the phenomenon's early history and ultimate causes.

So I am looking for sources more reliable than Michael Moore and I would be esp. interested in any memoirs that may exist from Cuban doctors having served in African countries during the Cold War period: Che Guevara, M.D. does not count :)

  • 1
    I'd be interested in officially documented answer, but one possible consideration could be USSR's influence. USSR placed a great emphasis on training high quality primary care physicians (possibly in part to compensate for the sorry state of their medical and pharmaceutical technology), and they - as doctors - were pretty high quality, on average. As an example, pretty much 100% of USSR immigrants in US I know prefer ex-soviet PCPs (totally not due to language - this is true even for those who only use English when talking to the doctor, and ONLY true for PCPs, not specialist docs).
    – DVK
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 17:04
  • @DVK what is PCP in Russian? Can you please clarify the term?
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 28, 2013 at 23:26
  • @Anixx - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_care_physician
    – DVK
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 5:11
  • 1
    @DVK if so, I can assure you that training of such doctors in the USSR was very weak.
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 8:38
  • 1
    @EmilioGort just a reference to the fact that Ernesto "Che" Guevara was a trained physician (nothing serious -- notice the smiley)
    – Drux
    Commented Mar 17, 2014 at 21:13

2 Answers 2


Castro make the cuban medical system the showcase of socialist success. He prepared the educational system to make more medical. See chart at the end source.

In fact the export of cuban medical is a one of the big business Castro made. For example in the case of Angola and Venezuela where you can find a big amount of cuban medical the gov of these country are paying for this service now days around of $2,500 usd/month by each doctor to the cuban government and this medical just receive around $100 usd by moth, then you can see the profit generated by this "internationalism".

The same apply to other fields like education and sport training.

From my experience when I lived in La Havana, was very common go to the hospital and the specialist was in mission(how it's called in Cuba when a medical go to other country sent by the gov), and I had to return to my home without medical atention

Recent News: Cuban doctor in Brazil triggers diplomatic tiff

Cuba has a population around the 11,2 million(2012)


USSR trained a lot of foreign students - going so far as creating a special university for that. Education for citizens of client states was free - this was one of the forms of support, like, e.g., selling oil below market prices (which Cuba re-exported at a handsome profit) or buying their products (like Cuban sugar) above market prices.

Castro made the Cuban medical system the showcase of socialist success (like classical ballet and the space program in the USSR) - getting free medical education in the USSR and "re-exporting" it as "medical internationalism".

  • 6
    Your answer seems to imply that the majority of Cuban MDs were educated in the USSR. Do you know the proportions or any references to back this up?
    – Drux
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 6:20
  • The last sentence isn't true Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 17:08
  • @Drux: I make no such implication.
    – sds
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 14:32
  • I think you actually do by making it sound as if "getting free medical education in the USSR" was the normal thing for aspiring Cuban MDs. Anyway, it would be good to see some quantitative evidence and proportions.
    – Drux
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 9:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.