Global Health in Bolivia (La Paz)
Bolivia has the largest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America; the Quechua and Aymara alone make up approximately half of the population. Our program is based in La Paz, recently named one of the "Seven Urban Wonders" in the world. In the last 10 years, political changes have meant improved access to health and educational services for the poorest of the poor, including social services provided for children and adolescents. Inequities still persist, however, and, as in most of Latin America, unequal access to healthcare is still the number one killer of moms and kids (World Bank).
Take part in rotations at pediatric clinics and hospitals in and around La Paz, including the largest children’s hospital in the country, recognized as a major research hospital conducting work to influence national health policy. Learn from local physicians, residents, medical students, and nurses in wards such as obstetrics, oncology, inpatient, infectious disease, nephrology, and disabilities. Gain experience in working with largely indigenous populations in resource poor settings and come to understand the socioeconomic and cultural barriers they face in accessing services for their children. In addition, you may choose to meet with local non-governmental organizations that cater to the needs of underprivileged children and families and learn more about the socio-economic determinants of children health.
Become immersed in Bolivian culture and language through conversational and medical Spanish classes while living with a local family. Explore Bolivia, and visit destinations such as Lake Titicaca, the Inca Ruins at Tiwanaku, and the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Clinical Rotations & Public Health Placements
Public Pediatric Hospital, La Paz- This tertiary hospital serves children and adolescents with all types of pathologies. A leading research center, it is a point of reference for the whole country, where the most common and most rare diseases may be observed. As a teaching hospital, it trains medical students, interns and pediatric residents.
Rotate with specialists in infectious diseases, nephrology, gastroenterology, neonatology, and more, and observe nurses and residents as they care for seriously ill children.
Public Hospital for Women, La Paz- This tertiary hospital cares for women of childbearing age, from pregnancy to delivery to the postnatal period. A team of highly trained gynecologists and obstetricians solve most pathologies related to pregnancy and delivery. It is also a teaching hospital that trains medical students, interns, and Gynecology and Obstetrics residents.
University Hospital Nuestra Señora de La Paz, La Paz- This is a private hospital attached to the University Nuestra Señora de La Paz serving students in all Health Sciences. It is a tertiary hospital with all medical specialties.
Primary Health Care, La Paz and El Alto- Bolivia’s healthcare system offers primary care to all citizens through small Health Centers, located in every neighborhood of La Paz and El Alto. These centers focus on prevention and promotion of health offering in-house and external community services to children, adolescents and women, public health programs to fight malnutrition, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, and meet dental and other healthcare needs.
One of the biggest current public health challenges is teenage pregnancy. These centers focus on its prevention.
Center for the Integral Support of Children with Disabilities “Virgen Niña,” El Alto -This center tends to children with physical and intellectual disabilities in El Alto, offering services in the medical, pedagogic, and social fields.
Insufficient staffing to care for these children is a constant preoccupation for the center's staff.
CFHI is a global health ethics leader. Our programs uphold strict standards and comply with all local laws regarding student involvement in health settings. Your experience on the program depends on your previous clinical training (if applicable), Spanish level, and the relationship you build with your supervising preceptor. Above all, YOU are the most important factor in making the CFHI experience as fulfilling as possible by being respectful, culturally humble, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning opportunities which you will encounter.
Bolivia is a geographically diverse country home to both the Amazon jungle and Andes mountain range. This land-locked country in the heart of South America was formerly part of the Inca Empire and borders Brazil, Peru, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. It is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in Latin America.
This program is based in La Paz, Bolivia’s third most populous city and a center for commerce, finance and industry. Located at an altitude of nearly 12,000 feet the ‘city that touches the sky’ lies between the Altiplano high mountain ranges of the west and Las Yungas, an area of tropical mid-elevation valleys. Temperatures average in the 60s year round, but can dip below freezing at night.
Things To Do
Relax over coffee at one of La Paz’ many cafes or visit one of the cities hundreds of museums and historic churches. Explore colorful markets such as the unusual Mercado de Hechicería, or witches market — selling local indigenous handcrafts as well as witchcraft-related potions, charms, and trinkets.
La Paz is also located just a few hours away from the UNESCO world heritage site of Lake Titicaca, the largest and highest navigable lake in the world. Situated on the Bolivian side of the lake visit the town of Copacabana and islands such as Isla del Sol or “Island of the Sun.” Walk among the ruins such as Sacred Rock and labyrinth-like buildings and archaeological sites dating back to 300 A.D. Organize a weekend trip to the picturesque Salar de Uyuni or Uyuni Salt Flats, the largest in the world at approximately 4,600 square miles.
Accommodations & Homestays
Participants stay with homestay families, chosen and screened by the CFHI Local Coordinator. Homestay families are generally middle class and live in downtown La Paz, often in high-rise apartment buildings. Homestay families are located in close proximity to one another and the language school, allowing participants to walk to language classes and meetings with ease. Participants will also find many shops, restaurants and cafes in the area. In some cases CFHI participants may be housed on their own or with others in the same homestay but participants will always have their own bed.
Homestays provide a unique opportunity to learn about local culture and practice Spanish skills on a daily basis in an informal setting. Accommodation includes two meals a day. At the CFHI welcome orientation participants will be instructed on recommended transportation from homestays to clinical rotations and getting around the city.
Eligibility: Who Can Apply?
This CFHI program is ideal for students who have a foundation in Spanish and have an interest in health and medicine in small town and rural settings. Non-students are also eligible. The program offers an overview of primary and secondary level care through visits within a hospital and primary care clinics, as well as Spanish language classes with an emphasis on medical Spanish. To confirm whether you're eligible to apply, please read CFHI's general eligibility requirements.
Minimum Language Required: Beginner 1 Spanish or Above
Beginner 1 Spanish: “I can speak a little and understand at times if people speak slowly and clearly.”
- I can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and simple phrases to get across basic needs.
- I can introduce others and myself. I can ask and answer questions for example where I live, people I know and things I have.
Leading this program on-site are our on-site partners (see Local Team tab), all of whom share Spanish as their native language, but may speak English as well. To provide authentic learning experiences translators are not provided. Daily interactions will be in Spanish, but CFHI’s local team is able to support and help you through your experience.
All CFHI participants applying to programs in Latin America will evaluate their Spanish language skills as part of their application. This information will then be shared with the on-site partners. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you and to be proactive in speaking Spanish, versus accuracy with grammatical tenses. All CFHI Latin America programs include Spanish language instruction on-site.
Not sure about your Spanish level? View a full list of CFHI’s language levels for all Latin America programs on our Spanish Level Guidelines page.
Participants should arrive in La Paz, Bolivia on the program start date and will be picked up from the airport by a CFHI representative and taken to their homestay. A welcome orientation will take place the Sunday or Monday after arrival.
U.S. citizens must apply for a tourist visa in advance or upon arrival at the airport. More information on travel and logistics will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.
- Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco before departure
- Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.
- Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to homestay in La Paz with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Spanish Classes: 30 hours/month of Spanish classes, including medical Spanish instruction
- CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response
- Weekly meetings and lectures on local healthcare system and socio-economic determinants of health
- Placement and coordination of clinical/public health activities
- Accommodation and two meals a day
- Local cell phone
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health
- CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved
Uniquely CFHI, 50% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more.
Meet the Local Team
Dr. Cecilia Uribe de Chavez- CFHI La Paz Medical Director: The role of CFHI Medical Director is to arrange clinical and public health placements, supervise participant experiences at these sites, provide weekly lectures, and help students understand the operation and application of the Public Health System in Bolivia.
Dr. Uribe is a Pediatrician and works in a public hospital in the city of El Alto. She is also president of the Adolescence Committee of the Bolivian Society of Pediatrics. She is an expert in socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and health care delivery strategies in low-resource settings.
Mr. Gonzalo Claure- CFHI La Paz Local Coordinator: The role of CFHI Local Coordinator is to organize housing, transportation, orientation and weekly meetings. Gonzalo is a great resource for any questions related to navigating the program locale, cultural norms and tips on planning weekend travel.
Gonzalo is Supervisor of the Executive Branch at the language school where your Spanish classes and weekly meetings are held. The school was started by the U.S. government and has been existence for over 50 years, still retaining close ties to the U.S. Embassy. Gonzalo manages local recruitment programs and study abroad for universities and agencies in the US. He also creates and maintains academic networks for Bolivian and American universities and higher education institutions.
What Alumni Say
"Rather than working in a clinical setting, I worked with an NGO that had developed a micro health insurance (MHI) product for very low income persons living in La Paz. The NGO was experiencing challenges in meeting their sales goals, and the focus of my practicum was identifying barriers in selling/purchasing MHI and providing recommendations to overcome these barriers.
This practicum was a particularly important experience for me because I did not have any previous experience in public health. In addition to learning about what it is like to work in the field, I also learned several invaluable lessons about developing, implementing, and promoting public health programs.
I found both the NGO and CFHI staff friendly, supportive, willing to teach me, and willing to learn from me. The local CFHI staff was particularly helpful - they were always available to answer questions or help resolve any issues. My homestay accommodations were very high quality, and in a location convenient to the office.
The also program offered flexibility to travel on weekends, so that you can explore and learn more about Bolivian culture.
All in all, this was a wonderful experience and I am glad I participated in the program!"
--Kavita Jain, March 2019 (Masters in Global Health student, Northwestern University)
"I liked that I was able to see healthcare in La Paz in different settings: I had two weeks of rotations at two different local community clinics and two weeks at the city's largest children's hospital (one week in surgery and one week in the pulmonary unit). The physicians I worked with were patient, kind, and very willing to work with me.
Not only was the clinical experience great, but the cultural experience was even better. My group and I were able to visit a new tourist site every weekend and our language facility made it so easy to plan the weekends. I also loved my homestay mother. The homestay experience was key in helping me practice and improve my conversational Spanish.
I would definitely recommend this program to anyone looking to combine their interests in healthcare and experiencing new cultures!"
-- Helen Yang, June 2016 (Medical Student, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School)
"My time in Bolivia has confirmed and strengthened my desire to pursue medicine, because I’ve realized that I want to be in health care for more than just my own interests. I really, really, want to help others improve their life." Read more on Chrissa's blog.
-- Chrissa Karagiannis, June 2015 (Pre-Health Student, University of California, Santa Cruz)
“This trip really emphasized the importance of knowing a person’s culture and their beliefs so you can meet them where they are in their life. I learned so much about the Bolivian culture and their beautiful, kind people, and personally saw how cultural beliefs intertwine with medicine on a daily basis.” Read more on Erica's blog.
-- Erica Bautista, April 2015, (4th year Medical Student, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine)
"The past four weeks have been an invaluable experience to my medical education. Every international experience brings the opportunity to broaden horizons and see things from another point of view. My primary goals going into this rotation were to see how a healthcare system in another country works, to see diseases that I may not have the opportunity to see as often in the United States, and to improve my Spanish. I feel that I have accomplished all three goals. I learned about the healthcare system in Bolivia both through lectures and through rotations in the local hospitals and clinics. I saw cases of Leishmaniasis and...” Read More on Rachael's blog.
-- Rachael Johnston, February 2014, (4th year Medical Student)
The Sustainable Development Goals are a global roadmap set forth by the United Nations General Assembly to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure the well-being of all individuals by the year 2030. This program highlights the following SDGs: