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Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment

Learn about public health through traditional medicine and intercultural health practices, indigenous customs, community welfare, and social justice.

At a Glance




3 semesters Spanish, Relevant previous coursework

Language of Study


Courses taught in



Aug 28 – Dec 10

Program Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Global Health & Well-being

Development & Inequality


Why study public health in Chile?

Live in ethnically diverse Arica, Chile, home to many cultural worldviews and health practices as well as unequal access to health services. From this strategic location near the borders of Peru and Bolivia, you’ll learn about transnational issues such as infectious disease management and examine healthcare from international perspectives at health centers and government offices. You’ll also learn how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and public health data, and use that knowledge while completing independent research or an internship.

You will have the opportunity to learn firsthand about the work carried out by public health teams of Chilean Health System to combat COVID-19, their successful vaccination programs, challenges, and lessons learned.

During excursions, you will spend more than three weeks with Mapuche, Aymara and Licanantai communities where you’ll learn about indigenous and intercultural medicine and examine how healthcare policies and politics affect indigenous people. Throughout the program, you’ll engage with health officials, policy makers, and traditional medicine practitioners and have homestays with three different families in both urban and rural areas.

You will also develop Spanish language skills related to health sciences through classroom learning, cultural immersion, homestays, and excursions.


  • Learn about the intercultural health model developed among traditional healers of Chilean indigenous peoples.
  • Analyze how the National Health System operates in this extreme territory and in its relationship with urban areas.
  • Learn firsthand how indigenous communities manage their health with ancient medications and treatments.
  • Learn Spanish with a focus on public and clinic health.
  • Complete an internship in public healthcare centers or with traditional healers of indigenous people.


Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT. At least one college-level course in public or global health, medicine, nursing, development studies, anthropology, sociology, psychology, community development, environmental science, social sciences, or other related fields recommended but not required.

program map


Putre (Northern Chile)

During a seven-day excursion to the Chilean highlands you will study the health practices and beliefs of the Aymara people. You will see a rural health system, Chile’s intercultural health practices, alternative medicine, and the Aymara cosmovision. You will also experience northern Chile’s impressive natural beauty at Chungara Lake, Lauca National Park, and the Lauca Biosphere Reserve.

Temuco (Mapuche Territory)

On this 10-day excursion, you will visit Boroa, Nueva Imperial, and Saavedra near the city of Temuco to hear from healers of the Indigenous Mapuche people about intercultural health beliefs and practices, and access to alternative healthcare. You will debate multiculturalism related to healthcare and learn how healthcare policies and politics directly affect Indigenous people and contribute to discrimination and social marginalization. You will also have the opportunity to see the region’s beautiful volcanoes, valleys, and forests.

San Pedro de Atacama

During a six-day visit, you will learn about the characteristics of the intercultural health model developed among the traditional healers of the Licanantai People, an Indigenous people who have lived in this area for centuries. We would also observe how the National Health System operates in this extreme territory and in its relationship with urban areas. On those days, you will also have the opportunity to learn about the work of Indigenous communities directly in managing their health, along with enjoying tourist attractions of incomparable beauty such as the Valley of the Moon or the Tatio Geises

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to: 

  • Evaluate urban and rural healthcare systems in Chile. 
  • Identify the different Indigenous medical systems with a focus on their conceptions of health, disease, treatment, and prevention. 
  • Analyze national healthcare policies in Chile 
  • Apply qualitative public health research methods in accordance with ethical norms. 
  • Conduct an independent research project or an internship in Spanish. 

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Independent Study Projects

  • Women’s and children’s health
  • Indigenous health practices
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Traditional and intercultural health
  • Mental health
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  • Teacher Training Medical Center. University of Tarapaca, Arica
  • NGO World Vision, supporting health programs for immigrant children in vulnerable conditions
  • Red Nacional de Pueblos Originarios working in intercultural health and health of Indigenous peoples
  • Red de Centros de Salud Familiar assisting in public health advocacy, health education, or maternal and child health
  • Teletón providing education and rehabilitation for children with physical and developmental disabilities
  • Intercultural bilingual and intercultural health education at a private school in Mapuche territory

Independent Study Project and internships are provided as examples and are not intended as a guarantee of subject matter approval or internship placement.

Public Health in Chile

Public Health in Chile – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits)

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; and differences between national and private health systems. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Traditional Medicine and Community Health

Traditional Medicine and Community Health – syllabus
(IPBH3005 / 3 credits)

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.

Spanish for the Health Sciences

Spanish for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN2003 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN2503 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(SPAN3003 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Health Sciences IV – syllabus
(SPAN3503 / 3 credits)

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.

Public Health Research Methods and Ethics

Public Health Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(IPBH3500 / 3 credits)

This research methods course is designed to prepare students for an Independent Study Project or internship. 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 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 or internship, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project or internship related to public health, traditional medicine, and community empowerment in Chile. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Independent Study Project or Internship

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

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 or perform a health practicum 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 ISP topic areas:

  • Women’s and children’s health
  • Community outreach
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Traditional and intercultural health
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Chilean health policy
  • Mental health
  • HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention policies
  • Indigenous health practices
  • Infectious and chronic disease conditions
  • Social, economic, political, structural, and ideological determinants of health

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


Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a health facility; a social, community, or indigenous organization; a nonprofit institution; or a university in Arica, Putre, Makewe, or Santiago. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable work experience and to enhance their skills in an international work environment. Students will complete an internship and submit a paper in which they process their learning experience on the job, analyze an issue important to the organization, and/or design a socially responsible solution to a problem identified by the organization. The internship will be conducted in Spanish.

Sample internships include:

  • Working in intercultural health, health of indigenous peoples, and sexually transmitted diseases among indigenous populations at Red Nacional de Pueblos Originarios (RENPO)
  • Assisting in public health advocacy, health education, primary health care, maternal and child health, chronic care at Red de Centros de Salud Familiar (CESFAM)
  • Providing education and rehabilitation for children with physical and developmental disabilities at Teletón
  • Providing intercultural bilingual education and promoting intercultural health at a private school in Chol (Mapuche territory)
  • Assisting social, artistic, and physical therapy for patients with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease at Centro de Estudios de Trastornos del Movimiento



While in Chile, you will live with three homestay families who can offer insight into the relationship between families, health, and well-being. You will deepen and challenge your understanding of family and community at three sites, comparing urban mestizo to rural indigenous communities, allowing you to form a more comprehensive understanding of each.

Host families come from different social and cultural backgrounds. You will typically enjoy breakfast and lunch with them, and on weekends you may share family activities together, which could include birthday, anniversary, or other family celebrations.


During your first homestay you will spend seven weeks with a carefully selected family in a residential neighborhood of Arica.

Rural Homestay in Putre

You will have a six-day homestay with an Aymara family in high-altitude Putre, where you will be able to participate in daily activities typical of this small, slow-paced town while learning about traditional medicine practices from such community leaders as shamans and traditional birth attendants.

Rural Homestay in Araucanía Región

Your six-day homestay in the rural village of Araucanía Región near Temuco will be with an Indigenous Mapuche family. Share in daily community life, which might include farming, animal care, or meal preparation, and learn about their impression of the health system and its access for indigenous peoples in Chile.

Career Paths

A wide range of students participate in this program, representing different colleges, universities, and majors. Many of them have gone on to pursue academic or professional work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • MD/MPH student at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL

  • Bilingual agricultural safety educator at the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, New York, NY

  • Medical student at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA

  • Member of the healthcare reform team at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England

  • Maternal health birth doula through AmeriCorps at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Seattle, WA

Faculty & Staff

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment

Daniel Poblete, PhD bio link
Daniel Poblete, PhD
Academic Director
Norma Contreras bio link
Norma Contreras
Coordinator of Student Services and Finances
Lorena Sánchez bio link
Lorena Sánchez
Program and Student Affairs Assistant
Carla Quioza, MA bio link
Carla Quioza, MA
Academic and Spanish Language Coordinator

Discover the Possibilities

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