Days after the 2003 national championship game, Oklahoma linebacker Pasha Jackson arrived at practice for a college all-star game with aspirations of playing in the NFL.
From there, however, those dreams began to wane. Jackson watched the NFL Draft without hearing his name called. Then as a rookie free agent, he failed to make a final roster after tryouts with the 49ers and Colts. To add injury to insult, Jackson attempted to resuscitate his football career in NFL Europe, but contracted a serious staph infection before ripping a pectoral muscle that required major surgery. Yet as Jackson’s NFL dreams ended, another began to take shape. Time away from football gave him an opportunity to think about life away from football. Jackson, an Academic All-Big 12 selection at OU, always held an interest in medicine. The Hayward, Calif., native had also hoped to one day learn Spanish. To fulfill both ambitions, Jackson’s father suggested the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba. After researching the program, Jackson decided his calling was medical school. "I spent a year going back to school to fulfill some of my pre-med prerequisites for the program,” Jackson said in an email interview with The Oklahoman from Cuba, "and last August I was ready to pack my bags for the next seven years of my life in Cuba.” Not many standout Division I college football players — and Jackson was a standout, starting two years at OU after transferring from San Francisco City College — pursue careers as doctors. But today, Jackson is among 12,000 students from almost 30 different nations, including more than 100 Americans, studying medicine on full scholarship at the Latin American School of Medicine, founded a decade ago by the Cuban government to educate doctors unable to afford tuition in other countries in the Americas. The idea of the school is to instruct doctors who will go back to their home countries and practice medicine in poor communities.