It’s really heart-rending
One year later, displaced medical students from Ukraine still struggling to achieve their dream
It was difficult for Cejay McCalla to accept that his three years of studies in Ukraine could be disrupted, as anxiety grew in the city of Kharkiv. He was prayerfully hopeful that the planned Russian invasion was a mere rumour, especially with just...
It was difficult for Cejay McCalla to accept that his three years of studies in Ukraine could be disrupted, as anxiety grew in the city of Kharkiv. He was prayerfully hopeful that the planned Russian invasion was a mere rumour, especially with just one year left to complete the first phase of his journey to becoming a medical doctor.
Now, one year later, having been forced to flee the war-torn nation, amid a senseless conflict that has resulted in countless deaths, millions displaced and massive destruction, this determined 22-year-old Jamaican is now employing creative ways to fund his studies, which would have cost significantly less, had he remained in Europe.
McCalla, who is now attending the All Saints University School of Medicine in the Commonwealth of Dominica, is one of the some 20 Jamaican medical students whose dreams were shattered by the war, forcing them to return home last year March.
One year later, they are still struggling to get their career goals back on track, some having more success than others.
Some have opted to start as a freshman locally; some are studying or working overseas; while others have been forced to put their aspirations on hold and find jobs wherever they can, with the hope of saving enough to resume their studies abroad.
“As it stands, I am not in Jamaica but I do intend to do some of my rotations there,” McCalla, who was forced to prematurely end his studies at the V.N. Karazin National University, shared with The Sunday Gleaner over the phone last week.
As part of the offer he accepted to complete is medical studies, McCalla must participate in a one-year core rotation in the United States, to be followed by elective rotations, which he plans to do in Jamaica.
Jamaica would have been ideal for the youth from the Old Capital but the former Calabar High School deputy head boy said the offers he received from The University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI) and the Caribbean School of Medical Science, Jamaica (CSMSJ) to continue his medical studies were unrealistic.
“The offers, in my opinion, weren’t best suited for me, given where I was in my programme,” McCalla said. “They were even telling us that everyone from Ukraine had to start from year one because they were unable to reach out to the registrars at the universities in Ukraine.”
In fact, he claimed that The UWI insisted that he start as a freshman, as it was proving difficult to make contact with his Ukraine-based medical school; while the special discount for one year of study from CSMSJ was enough to cover his entire schooling for six years in Ukraine.
“At The UWI, the tuition there is about US$28,000 annually for non-government sponsored spots,” noted McCalla. “For CSMSJ, it is US$24,000; they were, however, offering a special discount for students from Ukraine, and they brought it down to around US$19,000 annually.”
He explained that his study in Ukraine cost a fraction of that - US$3,500 annually, climbing to approximately US$5,000 with the addition of insurance and legal services.
“I am experiencing some financial constraints, but to help remedy this I have put a skill of mine to use,” he shared.
He is using his skill as a web designer to earn an income as he prepares for examinations at the United States Medical Licensing Examination, the National Board of Medical Examiners Assessment on April 12, followed by the Comprehensive Basic Sciences Self-Assessment in August.
‘I AM WORRIED’
21-year-old Joel Tulloch is now studying at the Caribbean School of Medical Science, Jamaica (CSMSJ), thanks to a bursary of about J$70,000 from Opposition Leader Mark Golding. The May Pen High School graduate is hopeful that his academic performance will attract scholarships to offset the US$76,000 required over the next four years.
His mother, Kelly Ann Tulloch, who works in the health sector, said the family is doing all it can to give her son all the support he needs.
“It’s like a standstill, everywhere you go seeking help it’s negative and it’s really heartrending,” the mother told The Sunday Gleaner last week. “Honestly, I am worrying, because if the government doesn’t give them that money that they promised, it’s going to fall on me, and right now I can’t even pay off this semester so that he can get to do his exam.”
WORKING IN THE BPO
On her return to Jamaica, Georden Shaw, a graduate of Immaculate Conception High School, spent most of her time applying to various educational institutions but settled for the Medical University of Lodz in Poland.
“It has been a journey, to say the least. I got accepted last August and started classes online; however, I was deregistered because I was not able to get my visa in time to meet the school’s deadline,” Shaw told The Sunday Gleaner. “After that, I decided to work until I can save enough money to go back to school.”
Shaw is now working in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and is aiming to resume her medical studies as soon as she is able to navigate the financial hurdles.
“My mother has put aside enough funds to cover around two years of medical school overseas. We are still working towards the remaining years, but there are external factors that are making it a little more challenging to accumulate my tuition fee,” she said.
In the case of Sabrena Lewis, a member of the group said that she is now based overseas, happily reunited with her beloved cat, Victoria.
REFUSE TO START FROM SCRATCH
Dr Donovan Stanberry, campus registrar at The UWI Mona, said four of the students are now attending the St Andrew-based tertiary-level institution.
“Our records show that four of them were offered sponsored spaces last year; meaning, they only paid 20 per cent of the assessed fees,” Stanberry said.
He noted that the displaced students started their studies last year, but others were unable to provide proof of the period of their study in Europe and they refused to start from scratch.
Several Ukrainian universities were destroyed in the war, making it difficult for the students to get their transcripts.
“For them, I suspect it was a harder pill to start from scratch here with us in the absence of some kind of transcript that we could assess, so they might have explored other alternatives,” he noted.
“But what we had said, if they could get their transcript we would be willing to assess to see where we place them in our system, but the onus is always on the students to get their transcript.”
Daniella Hyde, registrar at CSMSJ, who also faced challenges because of the absence of documentary proof, told The Sunday Gleaner that 15 of the students received offers from her institution, but only three accepted.
“The ones who told us that they were in third-year medicine or finishing up medicine, we had given them an exam to assess the level that they were at and they were not successful,” said Hyde.
“And without the transcript to show the year that they were in, we could not verify it, so we had recommended that in those cases, they would have to start over from scratch.”
She also revealed that several meetings were held, including one with Education and Youth Minister Fayval Williams.
OPTED TO GO ELSEWHERE
“We gave them the exam where if they had finished basic sciences, they should be able to pass the exam, as it is the same exam our students (at CSMSJ) take after completing basic sciences at the end of their first two years, before moving to third year,” she explained.
“They were not successful at that level, nor were they successful at the exit exam that we have for our fourth year students for them to move into the internship, so we couldn’t put them in internship either. Those persons were not satisfied with that so they went elsewhere.”
Joel Tulloch was successful so he was able to start the Doctor of Medicine degree programme.
CSMSJ has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education, where students are offered a scholarship to cover the last four years of their MD programme, valued at $40 million.
However, the majority did not accept, Hyde said, noting that some advised that they were pursuing programmes elsewhere or trying to go back overseas to other schools.
Students who are enrolled in the MD programme, including those impacted by the Ukraine crisis, are to receive $1 million each per year towards their tuition, but Hyde said the school is yet to start receiving the payout.