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.

Central to the program is an analysis of health reform intended primarily to improve health conditions of disadvantaged groups, particularly those in Chile, while also improving healthcare access for the population at large.

Students carefully examine intercultural health and alternative healthcare practices in the context of Chile as well as 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.

Learning is conducted through thematic lectures, field study, and educational excursions, which challenge students to consider topics such as: 

  • The economic, structural, and ideological determinants of public health planning and practices in Chile
  • Questions of social exclusion in relation to public health outreach
  • Chile's Indigenous Health System
  • Alternative treatments of psychiatric and other mental health issues
  • The connection between healing and spiritual beliefs
  • Health of women, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly
  • Issues of access related to alternative methods of health treatment
  • Linkages between public health and community empowerment
  • Chile's national health system compared to private health systems

Students at the Iris Veliz health center in Arica

The program is based in the beautiful city of Arica located on Chile's northern coast. Arica is home to Universidad de Tarapacá, which contains the most extensive and complete library in the north of Chile and is where the program's classes are held.  Many of the program's lecturers are drawn from the university's faculty, and students enjoy access to the university's facilities, including the library and sports facilities.

Excursions to the nearby city of Putre; across the border to Tacna, Peru; and to Temuco (in southern Chile) help students better understand health policies and policy issues within different indigenous contexts. The program is designed to provide future professional health practitioners, policymakers, social activists, and others with an essential understanding of Latin American cultures within the health services field.

Intensive Spanish language instruction and an eight-week homestay complement thematic coursework and field study and further integrate students in Chilean society.

Students have the option  of living with an indigenous host family — Mapuche or Aymara — during the ISP period.

Exploring Public Health and Traditional Medicine in Chile

Within South America, Chile is regarded as having among the highest quality public health services in the region. Recent health policies have focused on family and community welfare through the promotion of preventative health strategies.

In Chile, recent epidemiological reports indicate a rise in non-transmittable diseases and mental health issues and, as a result, public sector health programs are increasingly targeting issues such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and depression.

Traditional medicine is still prominently practiced in territories where indigenous groups have a stronger voice, principally Aymara in the north and Mapuche in the south. The Chilean government has developed and implemented the Indigenous Health System, a series of special programs to help promote, recover, and strengthen the health practices of Chile's indigenous communities.

Emily with ISP research advisors, Gustavo Meza (right) and Regina Copa (left) SIT Chile Alumna Wins Fulbright
Emily Lubell, a University of Vermont graduate and SIT student on this program, has been awarded a Fulbright grant to return to Chile. Emily will pursue research on the correlation between urinary stones and socioeconomic status in Arica.

"I consider the work I will do for my Fulbright scholarship an extension of the work I did for my independent study with SIT. I would not have been able to propose this study if I had not first yet learned how the Chilean public health system worked. The SIT Chile public health program provided me with that background knowledge."

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research


Costs Dates



Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Arica

Language Study: Spanish

Prerequisites: Coursework in public health, development studies, community or social sciences, or other related fields; 4 semesters college-level Spanish. Read more...

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)


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