Community Health in Oaxaca

Oaxaca city

In light of the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis and worldwide travel restrictions, which are expected to remain in place for an indefinite period of time, Stanford University is suspending all BOSP Summer Quarter 2019-20 programs (see full announcement).

Seminar Quick Facts

Location: Oaxaca, Mexico

Faculty Leaders 
Gabriel Garcia, Medicine
Catherine Heaney, Psychology and Medicine

Arrival date in Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico: June 15, 2020

Departure date from Oaxaca de Juárez, Mexico: July 11, 2020

Information Session: January 16, 2020 (12pm - 1pm) in Sweet Hall room 020

Program Cost: $800 program fee. Fee covers room and board, transportation and course activities during the program. Fee excludes airfare to/from the program location. Financial assistance towards the program fee and cost of travel may be available. Please visit the Overseas Seminar Overview webpage for complete information.

Academic Prerequisites
1) MED 159: Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border (Spring Quarter) - Students must be on-campus Spring Quarter to enroll in the required course.
Participants must have completed Spanlang 2A or 3 or the equivalent.

  • All students, including native speakers, are expected to demonstrate their level of language ability (writing, verbal and reading) by providing results of a recent language placement test or previous coursework. For any questions, please contact the Language Center ( with "BOSP" specified in the subject line.
  • For students who have completed the language prerequisite by other means, please contact the Stanford Language Center to determine if that preparation serves as an equivalent prerequisite.

Additional Program Requirements
1) Vaden Travel Health Orientation
1x1 Appointment with Vaden Travel Clinic
Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location.

Activity Level
Moderate: Participants should expect to spend multiple hours each day engaging in physical activity such as hiking or snorkeling. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Information for Travelers to Mexico

US State Department Country Information

Visa Information
Consulate General of Mexico

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars Overview page

Application Deadline: January 26, 2020 at 11:59pm (applications will open in December 2019). Please visit BOSP's Application Process page for more information.

Questions? Schedule an appointment with a BOSP staff member.

General Description

This unique service-learning program will provide students with a deep understanding of the social, economic, and cultural factors impacting the health of Mexicans and Mexican im/migrants to the United States. Students will also broaden public health knowledge, increase linguistic competency in Spanish, and gain exposure to health care systems and clinical interactions in another culture. The program will incorporate both opportunities for close observation of clinicians at work in the community health settings in Oaxaca, community based participatory research projects, and service with local community organizations. Structured reflection sessions will support students in integrating their studies with their clinical observations and service work.

The on-site program in Oaxaca combines classroom study and discussion with cultural immersion, language training, clinical rotations, and community service.

Upon completion of the program, students are able to :

  • Describe the Mexican healthcare system, including governmental and nongovernmental programs and other community assets that aim to improve the health for those most in need;
  • Identify cultural, socioeconomic and educational factors that impact the health of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants to the United States; and
  • Incorporate an understanding of Mexican cultural and health beliefs to better serve the needs of the immigrant Latino community in the U.S.

All student participants will be required to take a pre-trip Spring quarter course, MED 159: Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border. At the completion of the summer program, each student will submit a final written assignment integrating knowledge and experiences acquired through both the Spring Quarter course and the Oaxaca-based program. In preparation for return to the U.S., students will be strongly encouraged and supported in applying their new skills and knowledge on behalf of the large and underserved Bay Area Latino immigrant population. An Autumn quarter group meeting will serve to further debrief and integrate experiences on both sides of the border.

The weekly onsite program will generally include:

  • 6-8 hours of classroom instruction and discussion
  • 6-8 hours of Spanish language instruction
  • 12-15 hours of clinical rotations through local community health centers and hospitals
  • Up to 12 hours of community service in one of several partnering community health organizations
  • Select cultural events and educational trips
  • Training and participation in a community based research project


The southern Mexican city of Oaxaca sits nearly a mile above sea level at the intersection of three central valleys. It is a truly unique colonial city, steeped in history and tradition. Sixteen distinct ethnic groups enrich the local culture with diverse crafts, cuisine and celebration. The intersection of different cultures and healthcare practices creates a rich learning environment.

Oaxaca is also one of the poorest states in the country, and many of its inhabitants have limited access to even rudimentary health care services. Migration from Oaxaca to California has increased in recent years making it an ideal community for study of the impact of migration on health.

Students in this program will observe the Mexican healthcare system and clinical interactions in a range of public and private health care settings. They will visit traditional medicine practitioners and have the chance to work with non-governmental agencies working to address community health needs. Through partnerships with Child Family Health International and the Becari Language School, students are placed in homestays close to the historical city center and enjoy top-quality Spanish language instruction.

Living and Travel Conditions

Students should understand that the conditions in certain overseas locations can present difficulties and challenges not encountered here at Stanford University. Students should be prepared for a varying level of lodging, lack of amenities, new climate, new foods, and having less privacy and personal space than they are used to at the home campus.

Students on this program will be placed in homestays located throughout the city in the same general proximity of several hospitals, clinics and the language school. Students may have to share rooms with other students. All host families will be arranged and screened through the Becari Language School. Food varies from homestay to homestay. Dietary selections may be limited, thus students with severe dietary restrictions should carefully evaluate their ability to participate comfortably.

Students who have concerns about the specific living and traveling conditions should consult with the Bing Overseas Studies Program before submitting their application.


DR. GABRIEL GARCIA, ( is Professor of Medicine (emeritus) and former Faculty Director of the Haas Center for Public Service and former Associate Dean of Medical School Admissions at Stanford University School of Medicine. He grew up in Puerto Rico in an immigrant family from Cuba. A hepatologist in the liver transplant program and clinical researcher by training, he taught 2 undergraduate courses: MED 157, a Foundations in Community Health Engagement class, and a year-long service-learning course MED 161 entitled Community Health Advocacy Fellowship. He has been the faculty advisor for Alternative Spring Break trips on Health Care for Marginalized Communities in the California Central Valley and American Indian Health in the Rosebud reservation, and for the LGBT Medical Education Research Group.

DR. CATHERINE HEANEY, ( is Associate Professor (Teaching) in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Medicine, Stanford Prevention Research Center.  She does much of her undergraduate teaching in the Program in Human Biology.  She teaches various undergraduate courses, including PSYCH 101/HUMBIO 128 Community Health Psychology and MED 157 Foundations for Community Health Engagement.  Dr. Heaney’s research has focused on work and health, particularly among low wage employees and employees of color.  She is currently involved in the Stanford Global WELL for Life project that is exploring the nature and level of well-being in various sites around the world.

Prerequisites and Expectations 

Selected program participants are required to enroll during Spring Quarter in MED 159: Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border. The pre-trip course will prepare students for the summer program through the study of Oaxacan history, culture, politics, community leadership and health practices. We will also look at the unique nature of Oaxacan migration and the health challenges that migrants face on both sides of the border. The course also provides students with the knowledge and insight to make connections between their experiences in Mexico and their health-related work with Bay Area members of the Mexican trans-border community. PLEASE NOTE: You must be on-campus Spring Quarter.

In order to get the most out of the community-engagement portion of the program, students are required to have at least one year of college Spanish (Spanlang 2A or 3) or pass a placement test (written and oral). All students, including native speakers, are expected to demonstrate their level of language ability (writing, verbal, and reading) by providing results of a language placement test or previous coursework. For any questions, please contact the Language Center ( with “BOSP” specified in the subject line.

Preference will be given to Spanish language capable students with a strong interest in a commitment to community health, and in particular to improving the health of immigrant Latino populations. While a certain amount of the class time will be in English, many of the lectures and presentations will be given in Spanish. The Spanish language instruction incorporated into the program will help in improving language skills onsite. However, in clinical and community-based settings students will be interacting in Spanish, and will get the most out of the program if they have a comfortable level of Spanish proficiency before coming.

Application Process

Decisions will be based on application materials. There are no interviews. The program capacity is 15 students.

Grading Basis

The Spring course MED 159 and the Summer program in Mexico will be taken for a combined letter grade, to be conferred upon successful completion of the summer program. Each course will be worth 2 units.

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of Mexico website. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT

VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Mexico. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

There will be a mandatory Mexico health orientation in February and all students will also be required to make an appointment with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic by March 1, 2019 to discuss any health concerns, pre-departure immunizations, and any personal prescriptions before going abroad.

Students must review the U. S. State Department’s Country Information for complete information on safety and security in Mexico.

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-program preparation and upon arriving in the country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this program.

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the Program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, unavailability of facilities or personnel, or compliance with the University travel policy at