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Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment

Gain unique insight into healthcare policies, politics, and delivery as well as traditional medicinal practices in Chilean communities.

This program examines intercultural health and alternative healthcare practices in the context of Chile and southern Peru. Students consider different conceptions of wellness and healing, including beliefs and health practices of the Aymara and Mapuche indigenous groups. The program gives students the opportunity to experience Chile's health system firsthand with guided, insightful visits to public and private health centers.

Major topics of study include:

  • Chile's national and indigenous health systems
  • Economic, structural, and ideological determinants of public health planning and practices
  • Alternative treatments of psychiatric and other mental health issues
  • Healing and spiritual beliefs
  • Health of women, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly
  • Public health and community empowerment 

Based in Chile's northern-most city of Arica, students in the SIT Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment program examine theoretical and existing approaches to healthcare delivery in diverse communities across Chile, including in urban and rural areas. Through interdisciplinary coursework, field study, and meaningful site visits to public health centers, students scrutinize both "modern" and traditional medicine practices and delivery methods.

Gaining global perspectives from Arica

health center in Arica, ChileFrom the program base in Arica, students enjoy excellent access to health centers and hospitals, learning from academics, practitioners, and community experts in both Arica and the greater region. Arica is home to a multitude of ethnic communities including Chinese, Afro-American, Italian, Spanish, and indigenous groups; students discover that, despite these communities’ shared locality, extraordinary differences in culture and health practices exist.

Given Arica’s strategic location on the border of Peru and Bolivia, students are able to examine healthcare from unique international perspectives. Students learn about cross-border initiatives and transnational coordination of health policy on topics such as infectious disease management, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. 

Exposure to multiple sources of knowledge

Students in the Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment program learn from and engage with:

  • Faculty members at the Universidad de Tarapacá
  • Medical health professionals
  • National and local government health officials
  • Intercultural medicine practitioners including herbalists
  • Local university students in both urban and rural settings
  • Health centers where traditional medicine is practiced

Close interaction with academic, professional, and community experts allows students to develop a comprehensive, up-close understanding of health and community welfare in the Chilean context.

Public Health Research Methods and Ethics

indigenous medicineThrough the program's Public Health Research Methods and Ethics course, students receive instruction in research methods in both the social and health sciences. Students learn how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and public health data to understand and assess public health and intercultural issues. Field studies may include designing a research project; writing a research proposal; interviewing; conducting surveys; and maintaining a field journal.

Specific public health field study methods could include concepts and objectives of scientific research, basic techniques used in public health research, data collection and analysis, epidemiology and considerations in the Chilean context, ethical issues related to public health projects and research, and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Through this course, students frequently observe and participate in community health projects. The course also serves as an introduction to the Independent Study Project. 

Independent Study Project

Conducted in Arica, Santiago, Valparaiso, Temuco, or other approved locations in Chile appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Students may choose to incorporate a guided practicum experience into the project as well. Sample topic areas include:

  • Women’s health
  • Community outreach
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Traditional and intercultural health
  • Chilean health policy
  • AIDS treatment promotion and prevention policies
  • Indigenous health practices
  • Epidemiology


Previous college-level coursework in public health, development studies, community or social sciences, or other related fields. At least four recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish as assessed by SIT.

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The program’s coursework combines topical seminars and discussions with field-based learning around the themes of public health, traditional medicine, and community empowerment. These themes are divided into modules so that students can contextualize the Chilean reality, taking into account historical elements, current realities, and emerging trends.

Theoretical perspectives are provided through interdisciplinary seminars and are reinforced through the Spanish language classes. Subsequently, educational excursions and community work experiences complement classroom work and provide opportunities for critical reflection around programmatic themes.

The topic of public health is intertwined with the programmatic themes of alternative health practices, community welfare, and social justice within Chile.

Spanish is the primary language of instruction throughout the program. Students will be expected to follow advanced readings and conduct conversations with health professionals.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Public Health in Chile – syllabus
(IPBH 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Through this interdisciplinary seminar, students examine theoretical and practical approaches to healthcare delivery in Chilean communities that include both urban and rural contexts. Students explore the relationship between public health, social justice, and community welfare; reproductive and sexual health; HIV/AIDS; mental health issues; dental health; and differences between national and private health systems. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Traditional Medicine and Community Health – syllabus
(IPBH 3005 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this second seminar, students learn about traditional healthcare practices in Chile and analyze the role of these practices in overall community health. The course focuses on the Mapuche and Aymara peoples in particular. Students explore these indigenous conceptualizations of health and healing, the connection between healing and spiritual beliefs, and indigenous cosmovisions. Intercultural health and challenges to “legitimizing” and “mainstreaming” traditional indigenous healthcare are studied. Disparities in healthcare access among diverse populations are also analyzed. All coursework is conducted in Spanish. 

Public Health Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(IPBH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project, students learn how to organize and conduct a research project. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice a range of methods appropriate for researching health topics. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to public health issues and are guided through the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course, students will have chosen a research topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project related to public health, traditional medicine, and community empowerment in Chile. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Spanish for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN 2000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN 2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(SPAN 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences IV – syllabus
(SPAN 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this course, students hone their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. Students read professional health science literature as they learn the formal terms and local expressions needed to discuss health policy issues, to conduct field research, and to interact in settings (e.g., clinics and community health centers) related to the program themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Arica, Santiago, Valparaíso, Temuco, or other approved locations appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Students may choose to incorporate a guided practicum experience into the project as well. Sample topic areas: women’s health; community outreach; drug and alcohol treatment; traditional and intercultural health; Chilean health policy; AIDS treatment promotion and prevention policies; indigenous health practices; epidemiology.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Educational excursions are an important component of the Chile public health program and provide different contexts in which to examine healthcare delivery in Chile and Peru. Program excursions may include field visits to public health centers throughout Arica and surrounding valleys, including community medical centers, hospitals, public health centers, rural health facilities, mental health centers, and women's health centers.

PutreLonger excursions include traveling to Tacna, Peru; the rural area of Putre in the Chilean Altiplano, where the Aymara population lives; and Temuco/Nueva Imperial in southern Chile, home to the Mapuche community.

Putre (Northern Chile)

A four-day excursion to the Chilean highlands exposes students to the health practices and beliefs of the Aymara. The excursion introduces students to a rural health system, Chile's intercultural health system, alternative medicine, and the Aymara's cosmovisión. During this excursion, students experience northern Chile's impressive natural beauty through visits to Chungara Lake, Lauca National Park, and Lauca Biosphere Reserve.

Tacna, Peru

This four-day excursion to Tacna allows students to observe some of Peru's successful health programs focused on improving healthcare in rural communities. Students examine specific health campaigns targeted to improve the healthcare of some of Peru's poorest communities. During the excursion to Tacna, students also visit meaningful historical and cultural sites such as the Museo de la Guerra del Pacífico, Peruvian craft centers, and colonial churches.

Temuco/Nueva Imperial (Mapuche Region)

two women in Mapuche RegionStudents experience the unique Chilean intercultural hospital located in the town of Nueva Imperial. Over the course of twelve days, students explore health beliefs and practices of the Mapuche people, while considering issues of access related to alternative methods of health treatment. This excursion sparks debate on the topic of multiculturalism in relation to healthcare. Students have the opportunity to learn firsthand how policies and politics surrounding healthcare affect indigenous people in Chile. Students also have the opportunity to experience the region's beautiful volcanoes, valleys, and forests.

Sandra Rojas, Interim Academic Director

Sandra RojasSandra “Choqui” Rojas holds a licentiate degree in special education from the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (1989) and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education with a focus on community-based education. Choqui brings a wealth of experience to the program, having worked with SIT for many years. She began working with SIT as a Spanish instructor in 1993 and has been the Spanish program coordinator since 2000, developing innovative language-learning approaches. She served as interim academic coordinator twice in past semesters, during which time she led the Northern Chile excursion. She has also coordinated the program’s homestay component. 

In addition to her work with SIT, Choqui has taught and oriented foreign students in local Chilean universities and has conducted SIT language teacher trainings in several Latin American countries. Choqui has worked for several years at a local NGO assisting at-risk youth and their families.

Leonardo González, Program Assistant

Leonardo GonzalezLeonardo holds an undergraduate degree in public administration from the University of Tarapacá in Arica and has worked for many years at undergraduate institutions in the administration and accounting divisions. In his capacity as program assistant with SIT Study Abroad, Leonardo facilitates cross-cultural communication among SIT students, lecturers, and other program partners.

Norma Contreras, Homestay Coordinator

Norma holds a professional degree in public administration and has provided administrative support for various institutions in Chile. She currently works as the homestay coordinator for the SIT Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment program. In this role, Norma interviews and selects appropriate homestay families, orients families prior to the students’ arrival, and is in constant communication with the students, families, and SIT Chile staff.

Spanish language study staff:

Clara Salinas, Language Coordinator

Clara holds a master’s degree in intercultural bilingual education and a bachelor’s degree in language and communication from the Universidad de Tarapacá, Arica, Chile. She has worked as a teacher in higher education and as an instructor at the Universidad de Tarapacá, teaching classes in oral and written expression, mass media, and oral and written argument. She has worked with SIT since 2014.

Faculty and lecturers typically include:

Fresia Caba Burgos, PhD, MPH

Dr. Caba received her doctorate in public health with a specialization in epidemiology from Mexico's National Institute of Public Health. She also holds a master's degree in public health from the University of Chile; degrees in biological sciences and health management from Galille College in Israel; and several degrees in epidemiology and qualitative methods. She has more than 20 years' experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students at institutions such as the University of Chile, the University of Tarapacá, and the University of Santiago. Dr. Caba has published articles in several magazines, including ISI and SCIELO, as well as chapters in books on the subjects of reproductive health, intercultural health, biology, obstetrics, gender, adolescence, and sex education.

Currently, she is a professor in the Medical Sciences Department of the University of Tarapacá and also serves as director of the University's Postgraduate Public Health Department.

Roxana Gálvez, Lic

Roxana completed her studies at the University of Tarapacá, Arica, graduating in 1998 with a BA in midwifery, obstetrics, and neonatology. In 2000, she entered the Health Service of Arica directing HIV/AIDS prevention projects. In 2001, she joined the Dr. Juan Noé Hospital as the head midwife in charge of the Center of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (presently UNACESS), a position that she holds today.

Roxana holds a degree in logistical management within health and has a postgraduate degree in HIV/AIDS education. She coordinated the regional working group of HIV/AIDS advisors from 2000 to 2006, and is still an integral member of that committee. She is also a member of the committee for the prevention of drug and alcohol consumption at the Health Service of Arica. Roxana teaches a course on sexually transmitted infections at the University of Tarapacá. She is currently a graduate student of care management and serves as president of the Regional School of Midwives in Arica.

Patricia Huber, MD, MPH

Dr. Huber studied medicine at the University of Concepción and completed postgraduate work in public health at the University of Chile. She also obtained a master's degree in epidemiology and occupational health from the University of Chile. Additionally, Dr. Huber has a certificate in social management and public policy from the Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Chile.

Between 2005 and 2008, Dr. Huber was head of the Health Service of Arica's Epidemiology Unit and later head of the Department of Information in Health and Production Services for Health, Arica (Departamento de Información en Salud y Producción del Servicio de Salud Arica). From 1997 to 2005, she worked as a research officer in the Department of Decision Support Fraser Health in British Columbia, Canada where she directed efforts involving health diagnostics for the region, score card indicators, and the assistance network.

Dr. Huber was the assistant director of welfare management for the Health Service of Arica, in charge of the Department of Coordination Network and Information in Health and Production. In that role, Dr. Huber's work includes: contributing to the fulfillment of the Health Service's sanitation objectives; modernization of welfare networks; implementing the Health Service's strategic plan; and a patient attention model included in current health reform. She was also responsible for managing and coordinating the Health Service's welfare network and is responsible for the health needs of the target population.

Dr. Huber is now medical director at the TELETON Foundation.

Jerka Krstulovic, MD

Dr. Krstulovic specializes in pediatrics. She has worked in both the public and private sectors in Santiago and Arica as a treating physician, in management of healthcare facilities, and in academic research activities. From 1998 to the present, she has worked as a doctor in both the endocrinology and nutrition urgent care units of Dr. Juan Noé Hospital. She has convened commissions focused on nursing mothers, undernourishment, and health and education. Dr. Krstulovic has worked as a collaborator in the Undernourishment in Indigenous Towns program; as a clinical manager in pediatrics; and as a member of the regional vaccine table PAI. She has directed the Children's Health Program in Santiago, as well as the Health Service of Arica, and has also led various research efforts in the area.

Currently, Dr. Krstulovic is head of the Children's Health Program for AUGE plan for Mellitus Diabetes type I, the Nutritional Cycle, and PKU-HC program of the Health Service of Arica. She is an active member of the Chilean Society of Pediatrics and a collaborative partner of the Chilean Society of Nutrition.

Ester López, Ps, SW, MHR

Ester obtained a degree in social work from the University of Valparaíso and a degree in psychology from the University of Tarapacá. She also holds a certification in rationalist mental psychotherapy from the Institute of Mental Therapy of Santiago. She graduated with a certificate in family mediation from the Technological University of Chile. She holds a master's degree in human resources management from the University Arturo Prat and the University of Valparaíso.

Ester is a member of a number of work groups addressing topics such as: intra-family violence, alcohol and drug treatment and prevention, and quality of life. Additionally, she was involved in developing the Health Service of Arica's strategic plan.

Since 2000 Ester has taught social work, commercial engineering, and kindergarten education at the University of Arturo Prat. From 1990 to 2005, she worked in Mutual de Seguridad as a social worker supporting patients of industrial accidents and diseases and as a psychologist in qualification and selection. She also provided clinical attention to patients. Currently, Ester is head of the Mental Health Unit of the Health Service of Arica, in charge of mental health teams and community psychiatry (South and North ESSMA).

Luis Galdames Rosas, PhD

Dr. Rosas is a professor of history and geography. He holds a bachelor of science in development with a concentration in sociology from the Instituto Latinoamericano de Doctrina y Estudios Sociales (ILADES) of Lovaina University; a master's degree in history with a concentration in ethno-history; and a doctor of philosophy with a concentration in epistemology of social sciences. He completed postdoctoral studies at the Alcalá de Henares University in Spain. Additionally, he has studied anthropology and journalism at the University of Chile.

Dr. Rosas is currently a tenured professor in the Department of Historical and Geographical Sciences at the University of Tarapacá, giving lectures on American and Chilean history. He has co-authored four books and has also written chapters in books and articles in indexed journals and for nationally and internationally circulated magazines.

Rodrigo Valencia Severino, MPH, MBA

Rodrigo has a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Valparaíso and a master's degree in public health, with a concentration in public health promotion, from the University of Chile's School of Public Health. He received an MBA from the University of el Mar in the management of public health centers and institutions. He also holds a master's degree in participatory management and healthy communities from the Complutense University of Madrid.

He has worked as a clinical nurse at Santo Tomás Hospital and at a primary care clinic in the city of Limache. He has also worked as a nurse in rural areas of the Chilean highlands and in the Azapa and Lluta valleys. Rodrigo has gained experience teaching in the programs of primary pedagogy in education and pre-school at the University of Tarapacá in Arica. Currently he works in the department of coordination of medical networks in the director's office of the Health Service of Arica.

Carla Vaury Tejerina, MBA

Carla holds a master's degree in public health policy from the University of Arturo Prat and the University of Valparaíso. Carla also has a diploma in social participation from the University of Los Lagos, and she studied social work at the University of Antofagasta.  Until recently, she worked at the Health Service of Arica in the area of social participation and user satisfaction. Currently she works part time as a lecturer at the University of Arturo Prat's social work program and full time at  the Ministry of Public Construction.

Dr. Domingo Barrientos Vásquez, MPH

Dr. Vásquez obtained a medical degree and a master's degree in public health from the University of Chile. He also obtained a certificate in geriatrics and gerontology from the University of Concepción. He has extensive experience in the field of public health. He has held senior positions at Chile's Ministry of Health and at other public health institutions and establishments. He is a permanent member of the Ministry of Health in the Council of National Health of Chile. Previously, he worked as a consultant for the development of Nicaragua's health system.

Dr. Vásquez has taught courses at the University Santo Tomás School of Social Work, delivering lectures in public health. He holds several certificates in different medical and management skills. He has served as director of health systems in the regions of Atacama, Rancagua, and Arica. In recent years, he has specialized in complementary medicine from the perspective of synergetics. Currently, he is a geriatrics and complementary medicine doctor at the Dr. Juan Noé Hospital in Arica.

Silvia Zamorano, Lic, MPA

Silvia completed studies in obstetrics and neonatology at the University of Chile, obtaining the title of midwife. Through a joint program at the University Arturo Prat and University of Valparaíso, she obtained a master's degree in public management. Silvia has worked in public service for 20 years in different clinical areas and in management. She has worked in the Province of Parinacota and Commune of Camarones; in management in the Direction of Primary Attention; and later in the Women's Program of Health Service of Arica. When working for the Women's Program, she developed activities to monitor the quality of contraceptives logistics. For eight years, she was in charge of the Unit of Registry and Control of Medical and Paramedical Professions in the Health Service of Arica. Currently, she is the regional secretary of the Ministry of Health.

host family in ChileStudents in the Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment program experience an eight-week homestay with carefully selected families in an urban area of Arica. Host families warmly welcome students into their homes and help them become further immersed in Chilean culture and society. The homestay provides students with an excellent opportunity to improve their Spanish language skills by sharing daily conversions and activities with host family members.

Host families come from different social and cultural backgrounds. It is customary for students to enjoy breakfast and lunch with their host family. On weekends, students may enjoy sharing family activities together, which could include birthday and anniversary celebrations.

It may be possible for students to live with an indigenous host family in Putre or Temuco, depending on the student’s ISP topic, during the Independent Study Project period.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.

Program Dates: Fall 2015

Program Start Date:  Aug 25, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 7, 2015

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   May 15, 2015


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $16,270

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Health, society, and culture
    • Public health, community welfare, and social justice
    • Chilean public health policies
    • Alternative health practices
  • Public Health Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Spanish (with a focus on medical Spanish)
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Tacna, Peru and Nueva Imperial/Temuco (Mapuche region), including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$4,350

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.  This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Arica), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.  Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays (eight weeks in Arica plus an optional rural homestay during the Independent Study Project period, depending on the student’s ISP topic)    
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $200

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $50

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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