October 3, 2011, the student body of San Juan Bautista School of Medicine (SJB), was shocked to learn that the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) unexpectedly withdrew its accreditation from their medical school. The road they began as medical professionals came to a dead end that day.
Their journeys began August 2008, when SJB offered more than 65 students a place in their fully accredited US Medical School. The students excitedly accepted a position in the program and neither the school nor LCME gave any indication that the school was at risk of losing its accreditation.
LCME’s decision devastated students who had given their lives to become Doctors. Studying medicine is not a career but a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle for which each and every one of the 270 students attending SJB sacrificed everything. They all chose to dedicate their lives to a greater cause, a greater future, a greater good and now they have nowhere to turn. Here are a few of their stories:
Fidel Acevedo, Class of 2012 (Aguada, Puerto Rico)
Fidel Acevedo is a loving husband and father of two children. He has worked hard to become a doctor. There are two tests medical students must pass to get to their residency. Because of Fidel’s motivation, drive, and persuasion, he got high scores both on his Step I and Step II tests. He also had excellent letters of recommendations from physicians with whom he rotated. Every weekend he had to travel two hours from his home to school, leaving his wife and children behind. To him, the two hour trip to San Juan Bautista was one of the most painful things he had to tolerate in the journey to becoming a physician because he was away from his family. Throughout Medical School, Fidel felt awful seeing his child cry or saying no to his wife because he had to go to school
to study. Now, Fidel has a beautiful eight-month baby. Four months of Fidel’s son’s life, Fidel spent in clinical rotations all over the states. Fidel promised his family that all the sacrifices were worth it for a better future. The same day the LCME accreditation was withdrawn, Fidel’s interviews and rotations in dermatology were all cancelled. Now, despite having taken control of his future in every way possible and making it through medical school, Fidel is left with a mountain of debt and no path to a career because the school he dedicated the last four years of his life lost its LCME accreditation.
Chris Corkins, Class of 2013 (Horseheads, New York)
Chris has always been passionate about helping the Spanish-speaking community. He majored in Spanish and Chemistry at Allegheny College. To further his goal, he decided to attend to San Juan Bautista to improve his Spanish fluency while becoming a physician. Now, not only has Chris’ education come to a halt after only two years but so has his ability to afford rent and food for his family. Chris is a member of the Army HPSP program and because of SJB’s loss of accreditation, his stipend and biweekly pay was discontinued. He will not be able to pay rent on November 1st or buy groceries to eat. Chris is now struggling to find a way to pay for the doctors visits for his wife who is 13 weeks pregnant. Although Chris has excelled in every area at San Juan Bautista, he is now left without a way to continue his medical education and support his growing family.
Debora Zamora, Class of 2014 (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico)
As a dedicated Staff Sergeant in the US Army for 6 years, Debora spent over 2 years deployed in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and Kuwait. During this time spent in underserved areas of the world, Debora witnessed a devastating lack of health care. When she returned home, although she was on the verge of becoming the first in her family to obtain a college degree, she was compelled to change her major and sacrifice an extra 2 years of her life to complete the prerequisites for medical school. Her only dream was to one day impact the world she witnessed while deployed. Debora is now the president of the Class of 2014 and, despite
all of Debora’s persistence and dedication to her country and the study of medicine, her dreams of helping others in need through a career in medicine are now very uncertain.
Ragini Shyam, Class of 2014 (San Francisco, California)
Ragini, an MIT graduate with excellent credentials to attend any other medical school in the nation, chose to attend San Juan Bautista School of Medicine to improve her Spanish literacy to one day better serve the large Latino community she grew up with in California. Ten days before beginning her first day of medical school, Ragini and her family found out that her mom had been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. Though Ragini wanted to stay in California with her family to support them in this time of need, she knew that she needed to be in Puerto Rico, following her lifelong dream and making her family proud. Between her studies, Ragini flew home as many weekends as possible to be with her mom during her chemotherapy treatments. Now, Ragini has spent over a year at San Juan Bautista, away from her family during a time of crisis, and that time will no longer be recognized by any other LCME accredited medical schools. Ragini’s sacrifices now have gotten her nowhere on her path to help others and have only taken valuable time she could have given to her mother and family.
Jackie Urquiola, Class of 2015 (Gainesville, Florida)
Jackie and her fiancée, David, moved to Puerto Rico from Gainesville, Florida so that Jackie could realize her dream of becoming a physician. In preparation for the move to Puerto Rico, they sold their belongings, left their jobs, and moved with the little money they had. In order to have some sort of transportation, they paid close to $4000 to ship their car to Puerto Rico and that is the car they use
for both of their daily activities. Jackie and David started to establish their lives in Puerto Rico; Jackie began her studies at San Juan Bautista and in addition to studying at the University of Turabo David worked at Chili’s to supplement Jackie’s federal loan. Since San Juan Bautista lost its accreditation, Jackie is no longer able to realize her dream of becoming a physician. She and David will have to move back to Florida with nothing but a debt to pay.
The consequences of the LCME’s decision are far-reaching and deeply affect each and every single student at San Juan Bautista School of Medicine. After the notification of the withdrawal of accreditation, the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) that is used by all medical students to obtain residencies after medical school, immediately revoked the applications of all 72 San Juan Bautista students. Many SJB Students had more than 23 interviews lined up for residency programs as well as were currently in clinical rotations in hospitals around the continental United States, most of which, have been cancelled or are uncertain. If the situation remains as it currently is, these students are prohibited from entering a residency program and the four years they
sacrificed for medical school are considered invalid.
There are three national tests any medical student must pass before becoming a physician. Now, after years of rigorous work, the first and second year medical students are not eligible to sit for the National Board of Examiners STEP 1 Exam. In addition, those students who have successfully completed the STEP 1 and are now prepared to take the STEP 2 Clinical Skills and STEP 2 Clinical Knowledge will be denied eligibility.
Furthermore, every student at San Juan Bautista has been impacted financially. They have invested significant amounts of money including the resources of our family and friends to accomplish the dream of becoming physicians. Many of SJB’s students gave up their lives in the continental US to move to Puerto Rico for the opportunity to follow their dreams. Most of the students took on significant federal loans of up to $50,000.00 per year to pay for the cost of studying to become physicians to help others. These students knew they would pay this debt for most of their lives but willingly accepted the sacrifice for the opportunity to help others for the rest of their lives.
What are we asking for?
On the first day of medical school, each of us stood before our peers and mentors and took the Hippocratic Oath. We pledged to treat the sick and the less fortunate but also “to remember that we remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.” The drastic and unexpected decision taken by the LCME has blatantly ignored the values and morals that each medical professional vows to adhere to. The timing and execution of this decision is preventing us, the physicians of tomorrow, from completing our goals. We ask that we are allowed to fulfill our oath and to continue our medical education at an LCME accredited school.
The student body of San Juan Bautista School of Medicine