Sitting in a valley in the Andes Mountains 11,942 ft (3,640 m) above sea level, La Paz is truly a unique city, full of colorful markets and the rich living heritage of indigenous peoples. Bolivia is one of few countries globally to implement a universal health coverage model and recognize traditional medicine as an integral part of its National Health System. Yet access to healthcare is hindered by inequities between social classes and ethnic groups.
During the program, participants learn from local health workers who engage daily with indigenous populations in low resource settings and explore the socioeconomic and cultural barriers to access health care. Take part in rotations at pediatric clinics and hospitals in and around La Paz, including the largest children’s hospital in the country. Learn from local physicians, residents, medical students, and nurses in wards such as obstetrics, oncology, inpatient, infectious disease, nephrology, and disabilities.
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.
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 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.
Program participants will find their home away from home in carefully selected homestays, screened by CFHI Local Coordinators in La Paz and following CFHI’s health and safety guidelines. Nestled within downtown La Paz and surrounding areas, these homestays offer the perfect blend of comfort and authenticity, situated in middle-class neighborhoods with excellent access to public transportation, shops, restaurants, and cafes. Most homestays are in high-rise apartments, a common feature of urban living in La Paz. In some cases, CFHI scholars share a house or a room in the same homestay with fellow program participants.
Going beyond mere lodging, these homestays provide a unique opportunity to learn about the local culture and practice Spanish skills on a daily basis in an informal setting. Accommodations include two meals per day. At the welcome orientation, participants will be instructed on culture and work etiquette to have the best experience in both homestay and the health setting.
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.
Uniquely, 60% or more of CFHI student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems.
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.
A typical day in a CFHI program is a blend of immersive learning, cultural exploration, and personal reflection. Participants begin their mornings with breakfast at their homestay, followed by 4-6 hours of clinical rotations. The clinical site assignments and schedule are shared by the local team upon arrival. In the afternoon, participants attend Spanish classes at the language school, with the hours and regularity varying based on the program. Weekends are free of program-planned activities.
This program has a strong focus on pediatric, adolescent, and maternal health. During the program, participants will attend lectures and visit hospitals, clinics, and other public health sites.
The following hospitals, clinics, and public health sites are a sample of possible rotations during this program. After acceptance, students can indicate any preferences on their application. The local team does their best to accommodate learners’ preferences, based on local availability and conditions.
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.
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.
Los Andes Hospital is a municipal hospital located in Los Andes, in the city of El Alto. With only 20 pediatric and neonatology beds, it is a small hospital specifically for children and mothers. It is also a teaching hospital and receives medical interns doing rotations in Pediatrics and Obstetrics. The professionals are excellent and the work environment is pleasant, emphasizing solidarity and friendship. The teleferico (cable car) connects downtown La Paz and Los Andes in El Alto. It takes about one hour to get to Los Andes.
Adolescent Services Primary health care centers are public and located throughout the country. They serve the entire local population but emphasize women, children, and adolescents. These health centers are the first point of contact a person has with the Bolivian Health System.
The local Medical Director oversees and arranges all clinical and public health-related activities and is also responsible for coordinating healthcare and emergency services for participants as needed. They coordinate a cadre of preceptors who mentor and supervise program participants at both clinical and public/community health sites.
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.
The CFHI Local Coordinators manage the logistics of housing, transportation, and cultural immersion throughout the program. They are a valuable 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.
This CFHI program is ideal for participants who are 19 years of age or older with a Beginner 1 Spanish level or above, who have an interest in fields related to pediatric & child health, maternal & reproductive health, hospital & inpatient medicine, primary health care, and/or public health. You do not need to be a student to be eligible for this program; mid-career professionals, GAP year learners, and others are also welcome. This program will provide an in-depth overview of pediatric & child health, maternal & reproductive health, hospital & inpatient medicine, primary health care, and/or public health in Latin America through visits and experiences within hospitals and clinics in the city of La Paz. To confirm your eligibility, please read CFHI’s general eligibility requirements.
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!
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
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.
“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.
Hear back from CFHI team
Complete pre-departure training and requirements