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Public Health focus

During the month-long rural community practicum, public health is one of the three major academic areas of focus. Students interested in public health have a variety of ways to incorporate this into their rural practicum experience, depending on their particular interests.

Here are some descriptions and photos from recent students about their health-related practicum experiences in rural Costa Rica. Future placements will focus on community health projects, as recent regulations may not allow all students to be placed in clinics or hospitals.

Student Testimonials


Brenna Banwarth-Kuhn

Brenna Banwarth-Kuhn

Emory University

I lived on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica near the city of Jaco in a tiny village called Quebrada Ganado. It was an area where the tropical forest met the ocean, lush with trees and flowers sprouting and filling every nook with green. Animals wild and domestic were plentiful. Seeing a pair of scarlet macaws fly overhead and land to chat and eat in a nearby tree was a daily occurrence. In my house we had cats and kittens, two dogs, a goat, a bunny, and chickens that roamed freely and roosted in the fruit trees that grew in our yard. There was a beach within walking distance from our house which I often visited with my family to catch and fry fish or just spend time together.

I spent my month working with the Caja, Costa Rica’s socialized healthcare system. I worked in a small clinic called an Ebais that are put in different areas to provide easier access to general healthcare services and to alleviate the amount of people in hospitals. Each Ebais serves between 2,000 and 3,000 people and has a medical team consisting of one doctor, one nurse, a pharmacist, and a secretary. The services provided by an Ebais are control of diabetes, hypertension, and pre-natal care, child health, and general checkups.

At this moment the Caja is experiencing financial problems, and there is a lot of talk about shutting down some of the Ebais clinics around the country. I spent my month rotating between the different members of the medical team observing and documenting what their work in order to better understand exactly how an Ebais is structured and to better understand the service it provides for the people in the area

I was able to experience firsthand how a socialized medical system works and see from both the point of view of patients and doctor the good and the bad. I also had the opportunity to sit in on consultations and later help with minor procedures exposing me to patient conduct and some very interesting cases. As a student who is interested in studying public health and later continuing on to medical school, this month was an invaluable experience.


Elizabeth Burke

Lawrence University

This past September, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a month of my life living and working one of the most beautiful places on the planet (in my opinion at least).  Llano Bonito, a small town of around 2000 people, is nestled high in the mountains of Costa Rica, around 1300 meters above sea level, and the views are incredible!  Everywhere you look, the mountains are covered in lush green coffee plants and fruit trees that you get to pick as you walk down the road.  It feels almost surreal talking about it.

During my time in Llano Bonito, I was fortunate enough to work in a team of six administrators at Coopellanobonito, a small coffee cooperative, which serves around 600 associates in the community of Llano Bonito.   I don't think I have ever enjoyed working more in my life.  In the Cooperative, I conducted research on the occupational health care of coffee workers in the area of Llano Bonito.  I visited various coffee farms, had interviews with the farmers and people in the co-op, and truly developed a greater sense of what it means to be a small coffee farmer in Costa Rica and the struggles that these people face, especially the migrant workers that arrive during the summer months to collect cafe.  My month in Llano Bonito provided me with a new perspective on fair trade products and I gained valuable real-world economics experience.


Matt Nadel

Matt Nadel

Colorado College

I stayed in Pejivalle, Jimenez, Cartago and had the opportunity to work with AyA and ASADA, the two groups in Costa Rica that deal with aqueduct and aquifer management in rural areas, as well as water cleanliness. I had an incredibly interesting experience with this office.

My first ten days I worked on a project with a specific water extraction well in the town. Through measurement and calculation, I discovered that over 107,000 liters of fresh and treated water was being pushed from the water holding tank daily because the tank was not big enough. The town has now begun construction of a new tank, which will allow them to provide a more reliable water flow during peak hour usage, and use the new amount of water to develop more agriculture in the area.

My second project was working on the organic farm with my family, dealing with innovative organic methods of farming methods, and building a hydroponics system that doesn’t require the use of land and uses less water than usual planting techniques.

In addition to everything I learned about water management, I now have a second family in Pejivalle. From the second that my dad picked me up from the bus stop on my first day, I was immediately welcomed into the family. As the month went on, I learned more and more about them and truly opened up with them, all in a different language. My family truly taught me what it meant to be happy. There was no need for technology or expensive diversions, but rather, an old game of bingo and 20 people under the light of an old lantern, chatting, laughing, and simply enjoying each other’s company.

The experiences that I had with my family and academic projects in Pejivalle have changed my outlook on what I want to study and what I want with my future. I could not have asked for a community engagement experience that was more interesting, interactive, and worth my time.


Julia Weston

St. Olaf College

For my rural practicum, I worked as a volunteer in a rural clinic in La Tigra de San Carlos, Costa Rica. I assisted nurses by working in pre-consult: I weighed patients, took their blood pressure, measured their height, calculated their BMI, took glycemic indexes if necessary, took their pulse, and wrote down their symptoms for a nurse to check over and then send over to the doctors. I also helped in organizing the folders of each patient with their medical history. In order to help the Ebais in promoting health, I made a mural for the children in the waiting room about eating healthy. I also had the opportunity to work in the community center in Florencia de San Carlos by participating in workshops about health (how to prevent violence, reduce stress and anxiety, etc.) and helping in a free English class for the community by talking in small groups with the students.

Through this experience, I had a very interesting mix in between direct medical attention and also the prevention of sickness. I was able to see what Costa Rica offers communities on a local level and the relationship between community members and these services, which was generally a strong trust and pride in the services that Costa Ricans receive in order to fulfill their right to health.