Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine
Bolivia has the highest percentage of indigenous peoples in Latin America, the Quechua and Aymara ethnic groups alone making up approximately half of the population of this diverse country. This program is based in the capital of La Paz, a cosmopolitan city confronting inequities between social classes and ethic groups. Nationwide indigenous groups have less access to public health insurance and only 30% of indigenous women give birth in hospitals. In fact, in Latin America unequal access to healthcare is still the number one killer of moms and kids (World Bank). In the last 10 years, however, political changes have meant improved access to health and educational services for the poorest of the poor including a focus on social services provided by the government for children and adolescents.
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. Rotate alongside local physicians, residents, and medical students in wards such as obstetrics, oncology, inpatient, infectious disease, and nephrology. 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 to clinical rotations, participants can choose to volunteer with local non-governmental organizations that cater to the needs of underprivileged children and families.
Become immersed in Bolivian culture and language through conversational and medical Spanish classes while living with a local family in La Paz. CFHI participants may also organize weekend trips to 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- One of the largest and oldest hospitals in Bolivia this facility is also a leading research center and teaching hospital. Here, a dedicated team of physicians, nurses and residents care for seriously ill children from all corners of Bolivia. The main preceptor specializes in infectious disease and has been working with CFHI since 1990. Rotate and assist with consults within specialties including oncology, surgery, emergency, nephrology, infectious disease and outpatient care. Also spend time visiting, playing, and reading to hospitalized children.
Municipal Hospital, El Alto- Located approximately 40 minutes from downtown La Paz, this small 50 bed municipal hospital serves low-income mostly indigenous mothers and children. This facility is extremely busy and treats roughly 200 patients per day. Rotate alongside local pediatricians, including CFHI Medical Director, Dr. Cecilia Uribe de Chavez. Here, it is not uncommon to see mothers as young as 14 years old. Assist with patient intake and counseling on hygiene, nutrition, and newborn care, as well as physical exams for patients primarily from underserved communities.
Nonprofit Teaching Hospital- With more than 100 in-patient beds this facility provides both inpatient and outpatient services to street children and adolescents. Today the hospital also provides care to private patients to remain financially viable. Community outreach is paramount here and mobile medical units provide free healthcare services to homeless children and adolescents in the poorest neighborhoods. Assist mobile units with primary care and screenings, provision of nutritional supplements, and treatment of dermatological diseases. Within the hospital rotate alongside local physicians specialties including internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, OB/GYN, neurology, intensive care, and trauma.
Outpatient Adolescent Clinic- This clinic takes an integrated approach and provides medical, odontological and psychological services to adolescents. Health education workshops are provided here on teenage pregnancy, family planning, and drug prevention and empower adolescents to become healthcare trainers in their own communities. This clinic also provides dental services as well as oral health outreach and prevention. Here, assist with patient intake, prenatal exams, and OB/GYN services for young women.
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, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning experiences 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.
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.
CFHI Program fees include the majority of your on the ground costs. As a nonprofit, CFHI strives to keep fees low and offers fundraising opportunities, scholarships and discounts. Learn more
- 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, supervises participant experiences at these sites, provide weekly lectures, and assist in medical issues experienced by participants. Dr. Uribe is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings.
Dr. Uribe is a Pediatrician with her own private practice in La Paz. She also works at a municipal hospital located in El Alto and is the Secretary General of the Committee of Adolescents for the Bolivian Society of Pediatrics. Dr. Uribe is the inspiration behind the Center for Empowerment of Young Mothers, a locally-lead community health project supported by CFHI.
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
"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)
“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)
"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)