Intensive Beginner Spanish & Healthcare in Ecuador
Experience the rich culture and history of Ecuador's vibrant capital city, Quito, located in the Andes mountain range. This program is a perfect fit for those with little or no Spanish language skills and an interest in healthcare and global health. Gain practical experience and proficiency in this vital skill used everyday in today’s healthcare setting. Practice Spanish skills in local NGO’s, hospitals and clinics and learn about health care delivery in low-resource settings.
CFHI’s Intensive Beginner Spanish Programs are unique in that participants begin with service-learning placements rather than clinical rotations. In this program, receive increased Spanish language instruction in preparation for entering healthcare settings. Over the course of 4 weeks, take 40 hours of intensive beginner Spanish classes focusing on basic grammar and conversation. In the mornings, participate in a community engagement project and learn about the cultural and social context of Quito.
The last two weeks, focus on practicing Spanish skills during clinical rotations at local healthcare facilities such as community level clinics on the outskirts of the city serving low-income populations, or government hospitals delivering free high-level diagnostic, specialized, and emergency care. Other rotations include a public maternity hospital where high-risk pregnancies are managed, and a military hospital focusing on internal medicine and surgery. Participants will come away with more confidence communicating in Spanish within social and professional settings, as well as a holistic view of healthcare systems in Quito and how Ecuadorians access these services.
Become immersed in Ecuadorian culture and language while living with a local family in Quito. CFHI participants may also organize weekend trips to destinations such as Tena in the Amazon region, known for its waterfalls and adventure sports like kayaking and zip lining, the town of Mindo and its subtropical forest, and Otovalo, an indigenous community with a bustling weekly market.
Clinical Rotations (Last Two Weeks)
Primary Healthcare Centers- Located in every neighborhood, these clinics provide services including health education and promotion, diagnosis and treatment of disease, prenatal care and family planning, and primary care services including vaccinations and well-child checkups. Join physicians and nurses educating the local population about chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes, and infectious diseases including dengue, malaria and tuberculosis. These facilities also offer pap smears and cancer screenings.
General Government Hospital- This teaching hospital, located in the northern part of the city, receives funding from the government and civil organizations. It provides primary, secondary and tertiary care at low cost. Rotate alongside medical students and residents in ob/gyn, pediatrics, surgery, and emergency wards. Shadow physicians in morning rounds, general consults, and follow-up treatment.
Non-Clinical Sites (First 2 Weeks)
CFHI partners with several non-profits and public health sites in Quito. Please keep in mind that availability depends on local conditions. Sites are subject to change depending on local availability and general local holidays.
CFHI is considered a global health ethics leader therefore CFHI 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 experiences which you will encounter.
Quito is the capital of Ecuador, one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. Founded in the 16th century atop the ruins of an Incan city, today this modern metropolis boasts a diverse population of about two million people. As the capital and economic hub of the country it attracts migrants from rural areas - mostly indigenous groups, as well as immigrants from neighboring countries.
Quito is nestled in a valley within the Andes Mountain Range, surrounded by volcanoes and impressive peaks. At an elevation of 9,000 feet above sea level, it is considered one of the highest capital cities in the world. Due to its close proximity to the equator, the climate is spring-like all year long, with warm days and cool nights. Quito’s historic center is one of the largest and least altered in the Americas and one of the first world cultural heritage sites declared by UNESCO in the 1970’s. As the nation’s capital, it is a lively urban center with dancing, dining, historical sites, shopping and museums.
Things to Do
CFHI participants have free time during most evenings and weekends and may choose to organize weekend trips to nearby destinations and take part in cultural activities offered in Quito itself. Popular activities include visiting the “middle of the world” or the equatorial line, the famous Guayasamin art museum and home, and the historic city center. Served by various bus lines, Quito is an ideal jumping-off point to see the rest of the country. Travel to the Amazon to hike, nature watch, and visit jungle communities. Closer to Quito and ideal for a day or weekend trip is Otavalo, a primarily indigenous town that has maintained its traditional way of life and is known for its weekly market.
Accommodations & Homestays
Participants stay with homestay families, chosen and screened by CFHI’s Local Coordinator. Homestays are located in a middle class residential neighborhood in the northern part of Quito. They are located in close proximity to one another and the language school, allowing participants to walk to language classes and meetings with ease. In some cases, CFHI participants may be housed with others in the same homestay, thought each student on this program will have their own room.
Homestays provide a unique opportunity to learn about local culture and practice Spanish skills on a daily basis in an informal setting. At the orientation session upon arrival, participants will be informed about recommended transportation from homestays to clinical rotations and getting around the city.
Eligibility: Who Can Apply?
This CFHI program is ideal for students who are beginner Spanish speakers. Non-students are also eligible. The program offers a perspective on health in Ecuador largely through visits and experiences within hospitals and clinics as well as through some service-learning and community engagement with local organizations. To confirm you may apply, please read CFHI's general eligibility requirements.
Minimum Language Required: English; Novice
Novice: “I neither speak nor understand Spanish, other than a few words and phrases.”
- I can understand a few words/phrases such as greetings and introductions, but do not feel comfortable speaking.
- I’m unable to communicate basic needs without use of hand gestures or English words/phrases.
Leading this program on-site are CFHI’s Medical Director and Local Coordinators (see Local Team tab), all native Ecuadorians who speak Spanish as their primary language, but do know some 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. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you, 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 Quito, Ecuador on the program start date (a Saturday) and will be met and picked up from the airport by a CFHI representative and taken to their homestay. The orientation for the Medical program will take place on Sunday at 1 pm; the orientation for the language school will take place Monday at 8:30 am. If you arrive at an alternate date, please check with the local coordinator for your orientation schedule.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens staying less than 3 months in Ecuador. 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
- Pre-Departure Training materials including program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, historical, geopolitical, cultural, ethical and other need-to-know preparatory info.
- Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to homestay in Quito with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Welcome dinner, city tour and cultural activities through language school
- Spanish Classes: 40 hours of Spanish classes, including medical Spanish and cultural activities (students may purchase additional hours)
- Weekly meetings and lectures on local healthcare system and socio-economic determinants of health
- Accommodation, two meals a day, and laundry services once a week
- CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response
- Placement and coordination of clinical rotations/public health activities
- Local cell phone
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- CFHI Alumni status- including ongoing global health educational offerings, news about global health educational/leadership opportunities and fellowships
- Post-Return program evaluation
- Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health
- 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. Susana Alvear - CFHI Medical Director in Quito. The role of the Medical Director is to arrange clinical and public health placements, supervise the participant experience at these sites, and provide instruction on healthcare topics during weekly meetings. Dr. Alvear is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings.
Dr. Alvear has served CFHI since 1996. She is an accomplished family physician who obtained her MD and specialty certificates in Ecuador. She then completed clinical education courses at the University of New Mexico and workshops at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Dr. Alvear teaches at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, where she manages their residency program. Dr. Alvear has participated in several international trips providing healthcare services to countries after natural disasters stricken areas such as Pakistan and Ghana.
clinical education courses at the University of New Mexico and workshops at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Dr. Alvear teaches at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, where she manages their residency program. Dr. Alvear has participated in several international trips providing healthcare services to countries after natural disasters stricken areas such as Pakistan and Ghana.
Elvira Hinojosa -Assistant to the Medical Director. Elvira schedules your medical rotations, introduces you to your preceptors and is always happy to help you with any questions or challenges you may face in your medical program.
Patty Ribadaneira & Sandra de Maldonado - CFHI Local Coordinators in Quito. The Local Coordinators in Quito are members of the Academia Latinoamericana de Español, Quito. Their names are Patty Ribadaneira and Sandra de Maldonado. Patty and Sandra are sisters and have been servicing students since 1989. They both studied in the U.S. and are aware of the specific needs that students have. Patty is a collaborative, motivational and inspirational leader; she instills
confidence in others. Sandra is a consensus builder, and acts with integrity and fairness when dealing with students.
What Alumni Say
"I now know that I am on the right track pursuing a primary care occupation. I also now have a much broader world perspective and understand that there are many more ways to regard life than the way we do in America. Ecuadorians had a way of embracing life that was thrilling and refreshing."
--Pierre Sebastian, University of Minnesota, Pre-Health Undergraduate Student, May 2016
“Initially the biggest difference between this hospital and those in the US was that there were so many patients in one room, all of them laboring together. One morning I counted 13 patients packed into the main room! The patients would stay in this room until just before they were ready to deliver, and then…” read more on Megan’s blog.
-- Megan Bright (CFHI Reproductive Health Program Participant, October 2011)
"Participating in an international health rotation, such as the Intensive Beginner Spanish course in Quito, Ecuador, has been a goal for many years. I am drawn to underserved populations, both in the US and abroad, and felt that this one-month immersion program in South America would be perfect. As a future Internal Medicine resident at the University of New Mexico, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study Spanish and immerse myself in the Latino culture."
--Annonymous, CFHI alumni from Western University of Health Sciences