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




4 semesters Spanish, Relevant previous coursework

Language of Study


Courses taught in



Feb 22 ‎– Jun 6

On Site Component

Feb 22 ‎– Jun 6

Program Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Global Health & Well-being

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Development & Inequality

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Why study health in Chile?

You will 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.

During your excursions, you’ll spend more than two weeks with Mapuche and Aymara 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.


  • Study urban and rural healthcare systems, including indigenous medicine.
  • Examine national healthcare policies and intercultural and traditional healing.
  • Hear from government, medical, academic, and indigenous sources.
  • Learn public health research methods; complete field research or an internship.


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


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/Makewe (Mapuche Territory)

On this 10-day excursion you will visit an intercultural hospital in Makewe, near the city of Temuco, to explore health beliefs and practices of the Mapuche people 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.


During a five-day visit to the capital, you will visit the Chilean Ministry of Health, speak with national health policymakers, and visit organizations striving to improve access to healthcare for marginalized and vulnerable populations. You will also get a close look at the work of community-based and advocacy groups focusing on the rights of indigenous migrants to urban areas, including the Aymara, Mapuche, and Rapa Nui peoples.

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.



Access virtual library guide.

This program combines topical seminars and discussions to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of public health and traditional medicine in Chile. Students will examine the theoretical and practical approaches to healthcare policy and delivery in urban and rural contexts as well as the role traditional medicine plays in community health. During the final month of the semester, students leverage their accumulated knowledge and research experience to complete an Independent Study Project or internship.

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.

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

Key Topics

  • Chile’s national and indigenous healthcare systems
  • Specific health needs and practices of indigenous populations
  • Societal determinants of public health practices and outcomes
  • Diverse of healing and spiritual beliefs
  • The health of vulnerable populations, such as women and children
  • Public health, community participation, and community empowerment

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.

Course Options

Independent Study Project
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
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 Makewe

Your six-day homestay in the rural village of Makewe, near Temuco, will be with an indigenous Mapuche family. You will share in daily community life, which might include farming, animal care, or meal preparation. All homestays are in the immediate vicinity of the Mapuche Intercultural Hospital, and health-related activities are common.

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
Academic Director
Norma Contreras
Coordinator of Student Services and Finances
Pedro Arriagada, MA
Language Coordinator
Lorena Sánchez
Program Assistant

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Abroad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact for more information.


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    SIT Study Abroad Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment