Leap of faith brought Cuban doctor here
By Amy Figueroa - For the Journal

Dr. Luis ********* is a new physician at the Health West Clinic in American Falls. Journal photo by Doug Lindley.

POCATELLO - In the arc of his professional and personal life, local family doctor Luis ********* made drastic changes and sacrifices which became the basis for his success story.

Drawn to human services, Dr. ********* was a physician in his native Cuba while the uncertainty of his country's Communist regime lingered on. He graduated from the University of Havana Medical School in 1990 and worked at a hospital in the province of Sancti Spiritus.

"As a family physician, I dealt with all kinds of different scenarios, from surgeries to childbirth, obstetrics and elderly care. I then pursued a specialty in urology and completed two years of studies. However, it was at this point my family and I decided it was time to request political asylum and come to the United States," ********* said.

Cuba does not have an American Embassy, so those seeking asylum must do so through the Office of the United States interests in Cuba. For *********, the decision to leave the island was one fraught with uncertainties, yet supported by his family and the church which sponsored him.

"The World Church Organization in Nampa sponsored me and my family to come to the U.S., and after waiting a year, we were able to leave. They became instrumental in every aspect of our lives during our first year in the U.S. From how to use a credit card to obtaining a driver's license, they helped us through it all," ********* said.

The church's role in reconciling the 90-mile U.S.-Cuba divide evolved into a 2,400-mile leap of faith, bringing ********* and his family to Idaho in November 1995.

"My father instilled in me the love for science and astronomy. He showed me the value of work and discipline. As a child growing up in Cuba, I learned Russian and Spanish, so the first thing I had to do when I arrived in the U.S. was learn the English language. Even though I did know some English it was not enough to prepare myself for all the specified courses geared toward the (Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates) tests and subsequent licensure in the U.S.," ********* said.

The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates assesses the readiness of international medical graduates to enter residency or fellowship programs in the United States.

ECFMG promotes quality health care for the public by certifying international medical graduates for entry into U.S. graduate medical education. The American Academy of Family Physicians indicates that more than 25 percent of all practicing physicians in the United States are International Medical Graduates.

"I needed to obtain my residency. I was living in Nampa when I was accepted and enrolled at Idaho State University's residency program, from which I graduated in 2002," ********* said. "Idaho State University introduced me to the medical community of Pocatello, an excellent group of professionals who have accepted me and who are committed to the well-being of others."

********* divides his professional time between the American Falls Health West Clinic and the ISU Family Practice Center where he is also a faculty member of their prestigious Family Practice residency program.

He is a firm believer in medical practices which emphasize prevention, and a new practice known as evidence-based medicine.

"Good health habits are key. The choices you make about the way you live are important to your health, which is why prevention is very important. It can be a test or advice from your doctor about healthy choices and about medicines that prevent health problems. Evidence-based medicine is the new trend in the Medical world today. It relies on evidence alone and not on the opinions of the experts."

********* said that a combination of knowledge, skill and genuine concern are what count.

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"I believe that if we educate our patients, they can do better. Education is very important, and our job is to help our patients as best as we possibly can," he said.

********* adds, "Patients with low literacy have difficulty understanding and managing their diseases. Chronic illnesses are silent. Most people don't know how severe their condition really is until it's too late to help them, amongst them are diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure."

********* serves a mixed population of patients from all walks of life. His Latin heritage provides him with a better insight into the needs and specific problems of the Spanish speaking population he serves.

It is his challenge to contribute to educating his patients, aware as he is that there is considerable amount of treatments and health education information available for them. To keep up with the fast-paced world of today's health providers, ********* benefits from his direct involvement with ISU's residency students. He continuously reads materials and shares professional views with local physicians and specialists.

"Pocatello has become my second home, the place that embraced me and my family, and allowed me to seek better opportunities," ********* said.

In Cuba, the resources of the health care system are free. Nonetheless, the country's economy is in disarray as a direct result of its government's continued adherence to a discredited communist economic model, making it extremely difficult to continue to provide medication and adequate medical care to a population of 12 million people.

"When the time for retirement comes, I want to return to my country, Cuba, but not under the present communist regime," ********* said. "Pocatello gives me and my family the support and consideration we need, and I am grateful for it. My goals and priorities all center around my family, and my contributions to society through the medical field."