Tarija is a small and tranquil city in southern Bolivia, but full of charm. This picturesque region is known as the “Bolivian Andalucia” for its vineyards and Spanish cultural influence. Tarija offers universal health insurance, which can create high demand for services and strains on the system due to lack of personnel and equipment.
During this program, participants come to understand the cultural and socioeconomic barriers patients face in accessing healthcare services and witness treatments for pathologies not commonly seen in North America, including parasitosis, tuberculosis, and Chagas. Learn from health professionals and become immersed in Tarija’s healthcare system, engaging in observational rotations in community clinics, secondary and tertiary level hospitals, and a leading clinic for the treatment of Chagas Disease. Shadow healthcare professionals as they undertake patient consultations, laboratory analysis, and prevention efforts in surrounding communities while learning from local experts about the latest developments in Chagas research.
Become immersed in Bolivian culture and language through conversational and medical Spanish classes while living with a local family in Tarija. CFHI participants may also organize weekend trips to nearby destinations, the Valle de los cóndores and waterfalls in Coimata.
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 Tarija, a modern city in southern Bolivia known for its wineries, pleasant climate, and relaxed atmosphere. Residents identify more with the State of Tarija itself than the rest of Bolivia. Tarijeños have their own unique customs and way of life, influenced by Spanish and various indigenous cultures. There are many festivals to enjoy throughout the year, including the Festival of Wine held in March and the Fiesta de San Roque in September, with traditional musical presentations and a colorful procession of Los Chunchos.
Program participants will find their home away from home in carefully selected homestays, screened by CFHI Local Coordinators in Tarija and following CFHI’s health and safety guidelines. Nestled within Tarija’s town center and surrounding areas, these homestays offer the perfect blend of comfort and authenticity, situated in middle-class neighborhoods near shops, restaurants, and cafes. 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 Tarija 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 obtain a tourist visa for Bolivia. This can be done 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.
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 within Tarija itself.
Restaurants, shops, and palm trees line Tarija’s main plaza. When in Tarija, do as the locals do—grab a pastry while shopping for local handicrafts or simply enjoy the scenery and Mediterranean climate. Tour Casa Dorada or The Gilded House dating back to 1930. On the weekend, visit surrounding wineries in El Valle de la Concepción and sample the popular local spirit, singani, produced exclusively in this region.
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 and may partake in organized cultural activities, with the hours and regularity varying based on the program. Weekends are free of program-planned activities.
Primary and secondary clinical rotations in Tarija will provide students an opportunity to learn about rural and community health in this region. The following hospitals, clinics, and other public health sites are a sample of possible rotations during the program.
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.
Located in the central part of the city, this tertiary hospital accepts students from universities throughout Bolivia including medical interns, nursing students, and dentistry students. It offers services to the entire state, including people with limited resources and indigenous groups. Rotate with local physicians through specialties including pediatrics, surgery, cardiology and internal medicine. This hospital has 250 beds and inpatient wards in basic specialties, as well as a neonatal intensive care unit. There is a high prevalence of Chagas in this region and cases are treated at this facility. CFHI participants will rotate through different services including maternity, gynecology, surgery operating room and more.
Participants will have the opportunity to rotate at a second level hospital that provides general outpatient services and inpatient services in basic specialties. Hospital staff members also conduct healthcare education by facilitating educational community health programs on topics including: hypertension, diabetes, dengue, malaria, chagas, tuberculosis, leprosy, malnutrition, prenatal care, domestic violence, and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). Participants may have the opportunity to rotate in the obstetrics and gynecology department.
Located in every neighborhood, these clinics accept all patients regardless of ability to pay. Here, physicians and nurses provide health education, family planning, disease detection, and basic primary care services including vaccinations and well-child checkups. Join local health professionals and learn about common diseases, seeing firsthand how poverty affects families’ access to health care. Rotate at one of two clinics in the center of town or travel 12 miles to a rural facility and conduct outreach and home visits within surrounding communities.
This is a comprehensive center specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of Chagas Disease. Students will learn about the general cycle of Chagas control.
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. Gamarra is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings.
Dr. Karina Gamarra Hoyos has been working with CFHI since 2009. She completed her MD at San Francisco Xavier de Chuquisaca in Sucre, Bolivia and her MPH at Universidad Autónoma Juan Misael Saracho in Havana, Cuba, specializing in Epidemiology. Dr. Gamarra also has extensive research experience on Chagas disease and currently manages her own health consulting firm, designing and implementing health programs in the region.
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.
Fabricio has been involved with CFHI since 2009. He has a background in Agricultural Engineering. He has international experience, having participated in cultural exchange programs to the US and Germany as a college student. Currently, he is the Regional Manager of a construction company in Tarija.
This CFHI program is ideal for participants who are 19 years of age or older with an Intermediate Spanish level or above, who have an interest in fields related to hospital & inpatient medicine, communicable disease, infectious disease, urban/rural comparison, primary health care, and 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 hospital & inpatient medicine, communicable disease, infectious disease, urban/rural comparison, primary health care, and public health in Latin America through visits and experiences within hospitals and clinics in the city of Tarija. To confirm your eligibility, please read CFHI’s general eligibility requirements.
“I participated in this program because it focused on primary care and rural medicine. I am currently pursuing an MPH and with the help of CFHI, this program was more tailored towards me due to the community outreach it had and its global health components. My program consisted of a one week orientation in La Paz, Bolivia followed by a shorter orientation in Tarija. Most people that I met in the La Paz program rejected the idea of spending 4 weeks in a “rural” setting. Actually, Tarija is a hidden gem. You will be able to live with an amazing family and get to meet so many friendly locals, and to understand the culture as well.
My program consisted of clinical/hospital rotations. The physicians and med-students that I encountered were very helpful and were willing to answer our questions during the rotations. Also, we had weekly meetings with our medical coordinator and spanish classes. Not only, that you will have the option to volunteer at youth center to serve as an after school tutor for children. We also had the opportunity to do weekend trips like for example the Salar de Uyuni. CFHI welcomes students from different backgrounds and give us the opportunity to live in another country a see their healthcare system. I appreciate the resources that CFHI provides before, during and after the program. Thus, take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!”
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