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Mar 31, 1998

Small offshore medical school flourishes in Belize City

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When the eruption of the Montserrat volcano drove a medical school on that island to temporarily relocate at Belize’s Biltmore Plaza Hotel, it raised a storm of controversy between government and Belizean doctors. That school eventually moved elsewhere, but unknown to many Belizeans a much smaller and lower profile institution has grown up almost directly across the street. Over the last several weeks I’ve been checking out the students’ progress.

The Belize School of Medicine, a subsidiary of the Central America Health Sciences University in Mexico, has been operating for a year at mile four on the Northern Highway. According to the school’s Dean, Doctor Felix T. Oteruelo there were specific reasons as to why they chose to locate in Belize.

Dr. Felix T. Oteruelo, Dean, Belize School of Medicine

“There are many, many factors. The main one, we decided, there is another school of medicine here, but as far as we are concerned, we decided to come here because Belize is in the continent, Belize is English speaking, Belize is politically a safe country if you look at the surroundings. And there are no serious problem in the country as far as safety or anything like that.”

Presently, there are close to thirty international students attending classes… and they’re kept busy, as the school’s curriculum is rigid and compact.

Dr. Felix T. Oteruelo

“We didn’t invent the system; we are not that original. That was a consequence of medical education during the Second World War and the Canadians starting compressing in order to prepare physicians for the front.

Instead of having four subjects a day. One hour for anatomy, one hour for histology, one hour for statistics and one hour for embryology, here what we have is 6, 7, 8 hours of anatomy a day. So they do the theory, they have a little break, we do more theory, then we do more laboratory. We do everything.”

After successfully completing their first year of study in Belize, the students then move onto the school’s campus in Mexico, where they continue the clinical part of their studies before finally graduating. As part of the school’s contractual agreement with Government, provisions were also made to create scholarships for Belizean students.

Gregory Burke, Belizean Student

“Well, I have to say it’s a first time experience for me. It’s very interesting and very demanding of my time, having to learn all this new material, but the people here, they let me feel welcome and they do their best to help me to fill in, to sit in and some of them have had advanced in education in some of the subjects, so they assist me by giving me tips.”

Gregory Burke currently the only Belizean student at the school, says having a medical school in Belize, has been a real opportunity.

Gregory Burke

“Well, had this school not been here, it would not have been possible for me to pursue my dream. So I am very thankful for that and to other Belizeans, I would say for them to make inquiries and find how they can do the same and pursue their dreams.”

One dream the school’s administration is looking to pursue, is getting the students outside of their classrooms to work alongside Belizean physicians. According to Oteruelo, there are plans to open a clinic in Belize City, where full time Belizean physicians will be working with the medical students.

Dr. Felix Oteruelo

“So this will be the initial intro to medicine by our students. They will learn the basics of writing a medical history, of using an anatoscope to look into the ear, taking blood pressures… things like that.”

While nothing has been finalized as yet, Oteruelo says there are also plans underway to see how the students can gain some experience from inside the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Felix Oteruelo

“We are looking into that. As a matter of fact, in the agreement that we have with the Government, all of this is calculated. It’s not only the collaboration with the hospital, the way that I will see it, is that the college will be associated with the facility of the hospital. So then our students will have full access to the facility, to the hospital and the physicians, the knowledge of the local physicians in the hospital.”

The move, promises Oteruelo, will be perfectly safe, as the students will always be under the supervision of Belizean physicians.

Belize’s other offshore medical school is located in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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