Dentist Who Defected from Cuba Graduates from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine

Dentist Who Defected from Cuba Graduates from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine

Amaurys Ramirez left behind career and family to seek a life free from fear

Amaurys Ramirez defected to the U.S. in 2007.

"In America, you’re not afraid. In Cuba, it’s different, you have to watch what you say to everyone, even your neighbor.’’
 
- Amaurys Ramirez

Before he left Cuba for the last time in 2004, Amaurys Ramirez received a stern lecture from Communist leader Fidel Castro.

Ramirez, a dentist, was among a corps of medical professionals traveling to Venezuela as part of Cuba’s initiative to loan doctors to nations struggling with health care. It was Castro’s custom to send them off with a patriotic reminder of their duties, along with cautionary words against vice and disloyalty.

That didn’t stop Ramirez from defecting to the United States from Venezuela in 2007, knowing that he might never see Cuba again.

“I made my decision,’’ recalls Ramirez, 35, who’ll graduate from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. “I said to myself, ‘this is not the life I want to live.’ In America, you’re not afraid. In Cuba, it’s different, you have to watch what you say to everyone, even your neighbor.’’

In Cuba, Ramirez remembers having little knowledge of life outside the island nation. After the 1959 Cuba revolution, the U.S. imposed an embargo against Cuba, restricting trade and travel. News is censored, while both the media and internet access are government controlled and hampered by slow connections and outdated technology. In Cuba, Ramirez never used a cell phone or watched a DVD.

After fleeing Venezuela, he came to Tampa, Florida, and successfully applied to the Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program, which allowed Cuban doctors and other health workers serving their government overseas to enter the United States immediately as refugees.

He found a job as a landscape worker and later applied for work as a dental assistant but was repeatedly turned down.

“In the beginning it was really hard, like being a child again and learning how to walk. I got a job doing something that was in a lot of ways the opposite of what I was doing before,” Ramirez says.’’ “The language barrier was huge. No one wanted to hire me because I couldn’t speak English very well, until one dentist gave me a chance.’’

Despite the obstacles, he was determined to learn dentistry American-style. Although he has always loved the profession, Ramirez says his training in Cuba was limited, in part because government-funded dental care covered more basic procedures. “We often didn’t have the resources to do a root canal,’’ he said.

In 2013, Ramirez enrolled in the School of Dental Medicine’s Internationally Trained DMD program, which enables qualified dentists educated outside the U.S. or Canada to earn a degree that will allow them to acquire a license to practice in the U.S.

After graduation, he’ll start work as a dentist at Coast Dental in Florida.

Another dream will also be fulfilled – going home to visit family members now that the U.S. has loosened its 55-year-old sanctions against Cuba.

Ramirez parents’ are ready to welcome him back, despite their initial anger over his defection and shame that he was perceived as a traitor.

“They’re ok with it now,’’ says Ramirez. “They understand.’’

Click here to read about other outstanding members of the Class of 2015


For media inquiries, contact Carrie Stetler at cjs281@sdm.rutgers.edu or 973-972-3157.