Medical Electives in South America

Medical Electives in South America

The Intern Group offers medical electives in South America for medical students. Programs are offered in Colombia, a country that continues to win praise for the progress it has made in the last several decades. It ranks as one of the happiest countries and continues to attract international businesses. Colombia is a flourishing emerging country despite its tumultuous years of drug cartels and violence. Imagine not only the experience of living in this vibrant country but an opportunity to practice medicine as well. To qualify for a medical elective you must have completed two years of medical school as well as having some basic Spanish knowledge. If you are looking to advance your Spanish language skills and experience a medical system on the rise then studying medicine in Colombia might be the right fit for you.

Why a medical elective in South America?

South American countries are finding their place as emerging markets in the world. Many of the governments are experiencing stability and prosperity after tumultuous histories. South America also offers diversity in geography with mountains, jungles, rainforests and beaches. Colombia may be a small country in South America but it has made big changes in the last few decades and is being recognized worldwide for its advances. By choosing to participate in a medical elective in Colombia you will experience a health care system on the rise while giving back to the people.

Health Care for All

Colombia is the only Latin American country to break the top 25 in the WHO (World Health Organizations) top health care systems ratings coming in at 22. Colombia ranked higher than the US, Canada and Germany all countries that are well established and take pride in their health care systems. Colombia’s health care is cost effective, efficient and strives to provide care for all. Colombia has made health care reforms in the last decade to improve access to health care for all and it has almost reached its goal with roughly 85% of the country receiving health care benefits. It is a written part of the Colombian constitution that everyone is entitled to health care, it is a fundamental right. In an effort to make health care affordable for all, those that are employed pay into the health care system a percentage of their salary with employers also contributing. For individuals who are unemployed the government subsidies the cost of their health care. This system is working for Colombia as they continue to reach their goal of health care for all.

Public Health Achievements

In a short amount of time Colombia has made great progress as a country in its commitment to universal health care and public health. In the last decade Colombia has decreased infant mortality while increasing life expectancy, both are indicative of the improvements made to their health care system. Better care leads to longer and healthier living. According to the WHO Colombia has a 90% vaccination rate and has eliminated measles and rubella. Most recently it became the first country to eradicate river blindness. The WHO has also called Colombia the “champion of America in malaria control.” These are amazing achievements considering where Colombia was a few decades ago, a country rife with violence and a private health care system with massive inequities and little health care for the poor.

Medical Tourism

Colombia is also seeing a growth in medical tourism. It is an attractive option for foreigners looking to receive their medical care overseas. Hospitals are safe, clean with well trained doctors and cutting edge technology. The cost of care is far more reasonable for foreigners, especially Americans, who continue to see a rise in the cost of their health care. Medical tourism will only continue to increase in Colombia as people look for affordable health alternatives. The country has always been known for its advances in plastic surgeries but more are seeking out other medical services such as oncology and cardiovascular care.

The future

As an emerging country Colombia is still embracing the ever changing face of health care delivery. They continue to embrace technology and electronic documentation in order to provide better care. Many hospitals are embracing a patient centered care model to provide patients with a better experience. Colombia still has underserved populations, especially in rural and remote areas of the country. As the country moves forward with its commitment to public health it continues to look for ways to serve and care for all populations. Participating in a medical elective in Colombia you would be able to witness the great progress that has been made and will continue to be made.

Benefits of a Medical Elective in South America

In addition to the experience of living in Colombia there are many ways that you can benefit from a Medical Elective in South America. You will be learning about a health care system that has made significant reforms to ensure health care for all. Colombia has a continued commitment to public health for the country and you would be actively participating as a health care provider in this system. Studying medicine in South America is a rewarding experience and an opportunity to contribute to a country making real progress.

Spanish Language

The most obvious benefit is deepening your Spanish skills, especially medical terminology. In order to qualify for the program you must have some basic Spanish but practicing medicine in Colombia would be an amazing way to improve your communication skills both with patients as well as professionally with other health care providers. Spanish is the third most spoken language in the world behind Mandarin and English. With the growing number of Spanish speakers it is essential that health care providers have some knowledge of the language. Being able to communicate with your patients in their native language is more meaningful and creates a powerful relationship that is lost when communicating through an interpreter. Think of how rewarding it will be when you are able to obtain a full medical history from a patient in Spanish, you will not only have challenged yourself but will have engaged with the patient and truly provided patient centered care. Full immersion in a Colombian hospital will provide a rich experience in the language, you will be interacting with fluent Spanish speakers and will have to think in a more critical manner than just conversational Spanish. You will learn to think quickly and respond quickly in Spanish as you learn to manage medical situations.

Tropical Diseases

The diversity of Colombia’s geography means that there are illness that you would have the opportunity to diagnose and treat that you might not in a more industrialized country. While the country has made progress in managing and eradicating some diseases there are still tropical diseases found in remote areas. Tropical diseases such as malaria, yellow and dengue fever are all still common in the Colombian rain forests. As a health care provider it is always an amazing opportunity to learn about an illness when you are able to care for a patient rather than just read about it in a book. Especially in this global world with easy air travel, more diseases are being found in areas that they previously had not existed. What an advantage for you as a health care provider to have had firsthand experience in dealing with tropical diseases.

Underserved populations

Colombia is advancing and developing in so many ways but there are still underserved populations. Rural and remote areas of the country leave many of its inhabitants with little or no health care. You would be in the unique position to be able to help serve these populations and give back to Colombia. There is a large percentage of Colombians who benefit from the health care subsidizes from the government. You will be seeing many of these patients in the clinics and hospitals that you work in and will be able to provide them with the care that they deserve. You will be following through with Colombia’s mission of health care for all. As a health care provider you will be playing a vital role to meet the needs of the people of Colombia. While working with underserved populations has its challenges, it is always a rewarding experience.

A Learning Experience

There really are no reasons why you should not consider a medical elective in South America. You will not only grow as a person from your experience living and working abroad but you will grow as a health care provider. You will challenge yourself in a health care system that is different from what you are familiar with. Health care is constantly changing and practitioners need to be adaptable in order to provide the highest level of patient care. Living and working overseas can be challenging but it an opportunity for you to grow as a person as you learn about the people and country of Colombia. Your Spanish speaking skills will improve and you will be better able to communicate with Spanish speaking patients regardless what country they come from. Choosing to participate in a medical elective in South America with The Intern Group will make you a better health care provider, you will learn and grow as a person and a practitioner while giving back to the people of Colombia.

Watch one of our alumni, Christopher Foran, talk about his medical elective in Colombia!

Internship in Colombia


The International Internships Blog is a collaboration by The Intern Group staff, alumni and current participants to give you career advice & tips, program information, & so much more!

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Kiley Griffin

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