HPA 499: Exploring the Health Care System in Costa Rica
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Olivia Messina

Major: Psychology
Minor: Health Policy and Administration
Hometown: Leesburg, VA

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

During my study abroad trip, I was able to learn about the Costa Rican health care system through a variety of hands-on experiences. We traveled to multiple locations throughout the country, including San Jose, Monte Verde, Los Juntas, and Heredia. My group had the opportunity to tour one private hospital, one general public hospital, one specialized public hospital, and three clinics. We were able to accompany five primary care providers, known as ATAPs, on home visits during which they took preventative measures against Dengue Fever, asked questions about recent health changes, and administered vaccines. Additionally, we participated in two community outreach events: we delivered a walker to an elderly woman’s house and a new wheelchair to a young man. We also met with the Chief of Health Affairs at the Costa Rican Ministry of Health, as well as a former director of a pediatric hospital who is now a presidential candidate. In addition to these invaluable experiences, we also participated in fun cultural activities that allowed us to understand Costa Rican culture. We went on a tour of a local coffee farm, spent an evening touring San Jose, walked through a cloud forest on canopy bridges, and went zip lining. Through these experiences, we learned about the tourism market in Costa Rica, which plays a large role in raising the necessary funds to support their health care system. This once-in-a-lifetime trip allowed me to understand the inner workings of a good health care system through both educational and cultural experiences.

 I now feel much more comfortable with the topic of global health and the inner workings of health care systems around the world.

How did this experience impact you academically?

Studying abroad in Costa Rica allowed me to apply the tools and knowledge I have gained throughout my college career. For example, multiple health care professionals talked about the infant mortality and vaccination rates in Costa Rica; I was able to apply my previous knowledge of epidemiology to have in-depth discussions about these topics. Through these discussions and hands-on experiences with a variety of health care providers, I was able to expand upon my previous knowledge of health care systems. Additionally, this trip allowed me to understand how health care works in a country outside of the US. I now feel much more comfortable with the topic of global health and the inner workings of health care systems around the world.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

The hands-on experience I gained during this program will help me accomplish my career and academic goals. After graduation, I will be working in the health department of a consulting firm whose clients are located in countries around the world. I believe my experiences in Costa Rica, particularly meeting with the Minister of Public Health, have broadened my perspective of health policy and improved my communication skills; this could help me interact with both local and global clients in the future. These skills will be beneficial as an entry-level consultant, potentially allowing me to work on higher-level projects with global clients. I also hope to pursue a Master of Public Health degree in the future with a focus on epidemiology. I believe this first-hand experience with a health system outside of the US has aided in my preparation for graduate course work.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Yes, I would definitely recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students. This is an incredible opportunity to learn about the culture and health system in another country. The study abroad course assignments also helped me further develop my analytical research and writing abilities, which is helpful for any career path. It was also a great way to gain professional experience; meetings with Ministry of Health and medical professionals required business casual or formal attire.

For more information on global experiences for Liberal Arts students, visit our website
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