Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Twenty-four Jamaicans who graduated from the nursing programme in Cuba in 2012 are crying foul and pointing fingers at the Nursing Council of Jamaica, the local accreditation agency.
According to the nurses, while Cuban nurses who arrive in Jamaica are immediately placed in local hospitals, the council has refused to accredit them and instead instructed that they do a six-month internship in a local health facility.
The nurses say the council has ruled that on completion of the internship, they sit and pass the regional exams which are administered to all final-year nursing students trained in Jamaica.
"I finished training in Cuba last July. We sat down for six months not doing a single thing because the Nursing Council claimed they did not know about us," said one of the Cuba-trained nurses who spoke to The Sunday Gleaner last week.
"The council said we would have to do a six-month internship at local hospitals, although the first group of six nurses who returned in 2010 did not have to do the internship.
"We started our internship in January this year, and were told that it would finish on July 5. We are still on internship, although it's a week and half after the deadline," claimed the nurse who asked that her name be withheld.
Six years of training
She said members of the group completed six years of training in Cuba - which has also trained scores of doctors who are currently in active practice - but coming back to Jamaica has been a nightmare.
"They want us to do the regional exams. It's the final exams that students who are trained here do. But Jamaica is recruiting nurses from all over the world, including Cuba, Burma and Nigeria, and they are not expected to sit that exam, but they expect us to sit it. It's not fair," lamented the nurse.
Recruits for the Cuba nursing programme responded to newspaper advertisements encouraging them to apply.
The say representatives of the Cuban Embassy in Jamaica, the ministries of health, education, foreign affairs, and officials from Jamaica Trade and Invest met with them before they departed.
The Jamaican Government provided a stipend of US$1,000 per year to students who provided three guarantors with a promise to return home after being trained.
"I was one of 30 students. Twenty-four of us returned, but six will graduate on Thursday (July 18). They were behind in some courses. We were required to have a minimum of six CXC subjects, including mathematics, English and a science subject," she said.
She said the first batch of nurses returned to the island in 2010 and were accredited by the Nursing Council.
Members of her batch, who left Jamaica in 2006, have reportedly been told that they are a larger group and could not be certified.
Last Friday, registrar at the Nursing Council, Merle Rochester-Riley told The Sunday Gleaner that the Cuba-trained nurses have not been placed following the six-month internship because it has not received any report from the agencies where they were placed.
"We are waiting on word from the Ministry of Health and for any further information, you should contact the human resources department at the ministry," said Rochester-Riley.
"They cannot use the others (who were trained in Cuba) to plead their case, as we did not even know that they were going to Cuba," added Rochester-Riley.
However, efforts to get the Ministry of Health to assist the Cuba-trained nurses have been unsuccessful.
Neville Graham, director of communication at the Ministry of Health said the issue is outside the remit of the ministry.
"The issue is one of accreditation, which rests solely with the Nursing Council of Jamaica. This ministry is not involved in that, so your questions are best directed to that body," Graham told The Sunday Gleaner.
Several years ago, the Medical Council of Jamaica, the body which accredits doctors to practise in Jamaica, withdrew the automatic accreditation that was accorded to Cuba-trained doctors, and instructed them to do a one-year internship at a local hospital.