SAO PAULO – Cuba’s recent decision to pull out of a program that supplies doctors to poor and remote areas of Brazil has provided a chance for some Brazilians who studied medicine in foreign countries to work in their homeland.
In November, the Cuban government withdrew 8,332 doctors who had been working in Brazil as part of the “Mais Medicos” (More Doctors) program, making that decision after newly elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro questioned those physicians’ qualifications and demanded changes to their contracts.
Bolsonaro’s administration responded by launching a recruiting process to replace the departing doctors.
Nearly all of the More Doctors positions were filled by Brazilians trained in the country, but 1,397 spots remained available and offered hope for citizens who studied abroad but had not been able to practice medicine in their homeland because they have had difficulty validating their credentials.
Clismagna Leal is a Brazilian who studied medicine at the Interamerican Open University in Buenos Aires, where she has lived since 2011. On Feb. 13, she secured a position in the More Doctors program, an opportunity she describes as “a miracle.”
The program was launched in March 2013 to ensure the provision of medical services in poor and remote areas of Brazil where many Brazilian doctors do not want to work.
Doctors affiliated with the program, however, also work in Sao Paulo and other large cities.
During the recruiting process, the 1,397 remaining positions were filled in just 40 minutes.
That meant nearly 3,000 others who cleared the first hurdles in the process were left out, including another Brazilian and former fellow medical school student of Leal’s, Fabio Albino.
“The position in Alto Rio Solimoes (a medical-care unit for indigenous communities in the Amazon region) disappeared right before my eyes,” said Albino, who added that he still hopes to return to Brazil.
The Association of Brazilian Doctors Trained Abroad, which Leal leads, says that around 20,000 Brazilian doctors have completed their studies abroad, mainly in Argentina and Bolivia, while 60,000 others are currently undergoing training in other countries.
Albino and Leal blame this phenomenon on the difficulty in gaining admission to a Brazilian medical school, noting that typically there are 150-200 applicants for every spot in a public university and students must wait three or four years to enter.
In private universities, students must pay at least 5,000 reais ($1,330) a month, while in countries such as Argentina and Bolivia the monthly cost is only around 1,800 reais, Albino said.
After graduation, most of the doctors aspire to return to their homeland but have found it difficult to do so in recent years.
Leal says she is happy to have secured a position through the More Doctors program because she will be closer to her family.
But she said that her service in the program will only last three years and afterward she still will not be regarded as a fully qualified doctor.
She and Albino are therefore hopeful that a new revalidation exam will be held so they can return home for good.
“It’s my country. It’s my roots,” Albino said.