Medical Spanish Programs

As a physician-in-traning, your ability to communicate with your patients is
essential to successful patient care. Many medical students – some with little
Spanish skills and others with more advanced skills – are interested in improving
their medical Spanish skills. Indeed these skills can be used locally (a large
percentage of patients who visit BMC and affiliated community health centers
speak Spanish as you will experience during your BMC rotations) and abroad.
Also – the ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients provides an
advantage when applying for residency.


There are two (typical) times during the curriculum when students will undertake
medical Spanish programs abroad:

  • During the summer between first and second year; and
  • During fourth year as a fourth-year elective.

What Program Should I Choose?

Medical Spanish programs abroad have varying degrees of exposure to native
culture and medical clinics. You will need to explore the various programs listed
below to determine which program suits your needs. Some programs have an established
medical Spanish curriculum specifically designed for medical students and health
professionals (i.e., their core mission is to educate medical personnel to better
serve Spanish-speaking patient populations) while other programs focus on Spanish
instruction with medical terminology provided as an adjunct to the curriculum.

  • Program Cost: The typical program fees for a four-week elective range
    from $1150 to $2500 depending on your choice of program, length of stay, etc.
  • Program Components: Each program provides some or all of the following

    • Medical Spanish instruction (one-on-one or group)
    • Clinical preceptorship/shadowing/observation at local clinics/hospitals
    • Cultural competency
    • Cultural immersion
    • Homestay

APPROVED Medical Spanish Programs

The following programs are well-used by first-year students for summer experiences.
These programs also qualify as inside electives for fourth-year students
because of known faculty connections and successful track records. Dr. Sarfaty
is the B.U. mentor for these programs.

NOTE: A medical student cannot receive fourth-year credit for a Medical Spanish
language program unless it is one of the approved programs listed below.

program country/region comments
from Director of IH Program, BUSM (Jan. 2010)
Salud Program
Our students have had good experience with this program. It is well organized and caters to medical students. The experience is good for students who want to travel in a group and for those who do not want to be alone in a place that might be more challenging. The downside is the amount of potential English (from other students) that might get in the way of learning Spanish well in a short period of time.
Centro de Estudios de Español Pop Wuj
Guatemala In the past, this group has had problems with organization. Recently logistical issues appear
to be improved. The very positive feature of this program is the relative paucity of tourists in this region and the ability to really ‘dig in’ and learn Spanish in a rural setting. It is reportedly in a safe area of Guatemala. There have been safety issues in the very touristy city of Antigua (and
there is easy access to get there and to Lake Atitlan) for weekend trips.
Medical Spanish Institute
Ecuador This program is run by a U.S.-based (Univ. of Texas) family physician (Dr. Jorge Duchicela) who is originally from Ecuador. He works closely with local colleagues and family members to provide a quality program tailored to U.S. medical students. Dr. Duchicela is extremely accommodating for to our students to provide successful learning experiences outside the classroom. B.U. medical students participate in the Cacha program more than any other medical Spanish program and the length of stay ranges from one to nine months. This program will accommodate students with all levels of Spanish fluency. The program is located in a rural, remote area.
Family Health International
Latin America CFHI is a very well-organized program developed by a physician at Stanford to address the needs of US medical students as well as local in-country partners. This NGO has received commendation/support from the Gates Foundation for their model. Their programs are highly structured and serve best those students who have never been abroad and want a guided experience to learn some medical Spanish and participate in community service in a controlled safe setting. The downside to CFHI is the fees but fees are reinvested to sustain programs
in the local communities.
Health Central American Institute (IHCAI)
Costa Rica Developed by Dr. Mario Tristan, a respected colleague, IHCAI is geared for American medical students. Dr. Tristan has worked closely with GHEC (a consortium of faculty/health care educators dedicated to global health education) to develop and tailor his program to student needs. Benefits are: 1) the onsite presence of a colleague who is very receptive to our students; and 2) being in Costa Rica, a delightful country to visit and easy to get around in from a safety and cost perspective (i.e. weekend trips). Downside is the presence of other English speaking students, location in a big city, and potential exposure to medicine that is not dramatically different from the US. IHCAI is suitable program for students with limited exposure to Latin America and/or safety concerns. This program will accommodate students with all levels of Spanish fluency.
Spanish/Global Health Course
(sponsored by the Univ. of Nebraska
Med. Center)
Nicaragua The University of Nebraska Office of Global Engagement has offered Medical Spanish and Global Health courses in Latin America since 2000 in such locations as Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Contact Sara Pirtle for more details.