Realities of Health Access & Inequities (Spring Break Global Health Seminar)
Mexico, the most populated Spanish-speaking country in the world, retains influences from Mayan and Aztec culture, as well as European colonialism. It is famous worldwide for its ancient ruins, tropical beaches, and colorful traditions. The city of Oaxaca, the capital of the southern state of Oaxaca, is medium sized colonial city of over 260,000. This region is distinct from the rest of Mexico, with over 16 different ethnic groups each with their own unique language and culture. The city of Oaxaca is well known for its cuisine, skilled artisans and traditional handicrafts. Yet, with all the richness in culture, the state of Oaxaca trails behind the rest of Mexico in its health and economic indicators. It is one the poorest regions in all of Mexico, with the average daily income less than half of the national average. Oaxaca faces challenges in literacy, sanitation, unemployment, and access to healthcare services.
Join local experts and healthcare professionals during this one-week Global Health Seminar to learn about primary care and preventative medicine, as well as community health education programs, through lectures, cultural/historical activities, site visits and rotations at clinics, hospitals, and NGO's. Learn from experts at community level clinics and hospitals serving low-income populations. See Mexico’s three-tiered insurance system, and understand how quality of care, wait times and access to medications varies between each. In 1940, Mexico’s life expectancy was 40 years of age. Today, with increased industrialization and longer life spans, Mexico is struggling with “first world diseases.” Witness chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension that are increasingly common as a result of poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyle and lack of education. This program will provide participants with unique insight and cultural competency when serving the growing Mexican immigrant population in the US and abroad.
Become immersed in Mexican culture and language through Spanish classes, living with a local family in Oaxaca, and cultura/historical excursions and activities. In the city of Oaxaca, go shopping, explore museums and art galleries, or hang out with locals in the vibrant Zócalo or main plaza. Enjoy a day trip to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Albán, a Unesco Heritage Site, and experience artisans who inspired the movie Coco in action in the creation of "alebrijes".
This Seminar includes pre-departure training, guided ongoing reflection, and a brief essay at the end.
Clinical Rotations & Public Health Placements
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. Learn from 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 vaccinations, 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 in Oaxaca. It provides primary, secondary and tertiary care at low cost. Learn alongside Mexican medical students and residents in ob/gyn, pediatrics, surgery, and emergency wards. Shadow local experts as they engage in morning rounds, general consults, and follow-up treatment.
Government Social Security Hospital - This government funded facility provides secondary and tertiary care for state workers, including school teachers, and their family members. Shadow local staff in rounds in surgery, OB/GYN and emergency units. The facility has a strong surgical department.
Traditional Medicine Clinic- This small clinic focuses on traditional medicine from Eastern and Western cultures. The main preceptor is a doctor trained in holistic medicine and nutrition. In this spa-like atmosphere, learn how acupuncture, yoga, aromatherapy and herbal remedies are used to treat common ailments like asthma, chronic pain and gastrointestinal issues.
Red Cross Clinic - This clinic has been in operation for over 60 years, with 2 emergency rooms and 6 beds. It handles urgent care cases like broken bones, lacerations, and accidents. More serious cases are stabilized and transferred to a nearby hospital. Join physicians and residents at this busy facility, located in the historic center of Oaxaca. During down time, observe emergency room techniques and procedures from local residents.
Nonprofit Rehabilitation Center- This state-of-the-art facility receives most of its funding from a national telethon campaign televised annually. It provides genetic counseling for families, as well as physical and speech therapy. It also provides services and equipment for handicapped children from across the state of Oaxaca. Learn from orthopedic specialists, general practitioners and rehabilitation experts, and participate in patient consultations and rounds. Since its opening in 1997, this facility has provided care for over 4,000 children.
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.
The state of Oaxaca is best known for its indigenous peoples and cultures. There are sixteen officially recognized indigenous groups in Oaxaca, the most populous being the Zapotec or Mixtec. These groups have survived better than most others in Mexico due to the state's rugged and isolating terrain. It is estimated that at least a third of the population speaks indigenous languages, and 50% do not speak Spanish.
The capital city, Oaxaca de Juarez or Oaxaca City, is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by the Sierra Mountains, approximately 500 km south of Mexico City. At the center of the city is Santo Domingo Plaza with a magnificent church and convent dating back to the 16th century. The city’s cobblestone streets and architecture date to Spanish colonial times and are bustling with creative artisans and street vendors.
Things to Do
CFHI participants have free time during some evenings and may choose to organize weekend trips to nearby destinations and take part in cultural activities offered within Oaxaca itself if they have time after the Seminar ends. Within the city, enjoy colorful street markets, delicious cuisine and a lively nightlife. Approximately 6 miles outside of the city is Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian archaeological site dating back to 500 BC. Monte Albán is one of the earliest cities in Mesoamerica and was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
Oaxaca is also home to the month-long cultural festival known as the Guelaguetza.The event takes place in July and features music, dance, food, art and costumes from Oaxaca’s numerous indigenous groups. Another important cultural event in Oaxaca is Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead. In the days leading up to and following October 31st, locals organize concerts and parades and decorate altars in honor of their ancestors. In Oaxaca, the celebrations are said to be some of the most vibrant in all of Mexico.
Accommodations & Homestays
Participants stay with homestay families, chosen and screened by the CFHI Local Coordinator and language school. Homestays are located in a middle class residential neighborhood in the central part of Oaxaca City. 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, but will always 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 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. A placement test will also be given at the start of the program to ensure you're learning at the correct level. 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.
Visas are not required for U.S. citizens. 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 with local CFHI representative
- Welcome orientation with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics
- Spanish Classes: 10 hours of Spanish classes, including medical Spanish instruction and cultural activities
- 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 NGO and clinical/public health activities
- Accommodation and two meals a day
- Local cell phone
- International emergency medical and evacuation insurance
- Day-trip to Montealbán and Arrazola (last Saturday)
- 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. Magaly Chavez- CFHI Oaxaca Medical Director: 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. Chavez is the expert on socioeconomic determinants of health in the region and healthcare delivery strategies in low-resource settings. Dr. Chavez is a general practitioner and works in the Emergency Room in a local hospital. She has worked with CFHI since 2011 and enjoys teaching students about the healthcare system in Oaxaca. She has grown personally and professionally from her interactions with CFHI participants, and enjoys being a part of their training as future healthcare workers. In her free time she enjoys reading, dancing and listening to music. Dr. Chavez has also completed several triathlons.
Marta Canseco and Sandra Rivera- CFHI Oaxaca Local Coordinators: The role of the local coordinator is to organize housing, transportation, orientation and weekly meetings. Sandra and Marta are great resources for any questions related to navigating the program locale, cultural norms and tips on planning weekend travel. Marta and Sandra are co-directors of a local language school in Oaxaca, which has been in operation for over 20 years. They have extensive experience in running cultural immersion programs for foreign students and have been working with CFHI since 2004. Sandra has a diploma in Teaching Spanish as a second language from Universidad Autónoma de México. In her free time she enjoys cooking desserts, going to the movies, and spending time with her family.
Marta is a certified Spanish instructor and completed her training at Universidad Benito Juárez de Oaxaca and Universidad Autónoma de México. She is also a Dental Surgeon with her own clinic. She loves all music, especially dance music from the 80s.
What Alumni Say:
"I was fully immersed into Mexican culture from the time I arrived. It took me a few days to overcome the language barrier since my family did not speak very much English. The staff at the Spanish school were amazing and very helpful with helping me get acquainted with the city. The host family was very sweet, fed me well, and really helped to reinforce my language skills."
-- Chivon Stubbs, March 2018 (Morehouse School of Medicine)
"My month-long experience in Oaxaca, although short in duration, was incredibly enriching, thought-provoking, and has made a huge impact on my mindset. I have realized even more the importance of listening and making the effort to understand different perspectives. As a prospective physician, I hope that these qualities..." Read More.
-- Fanny Du (University of Michigan Medical School)