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Oaxaca, Mexico

Community Health in Oaxaca

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Program Quick Facts

  • Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
  • Stanford Faculty Leaders: Dr. Catherine Heaney & Dr. Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa
  • Program DatesJune 19 - July 8, 2023
  • Program Cost: $600
  • Academic Prerequisites
    • MED 159: Oaxacan Health on Both Sides of the Border (Spring Quarter)
    • 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.
  • Activity Level: Light/Moderate. Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits as well as an occasional physical activity such as snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to Mexico
  • US State Department Country Information: Mexico International Travel Information
  • Visa Information: Consulate General of Mexico
  • Application Deadline: Sunday, January 29, 2023 at 11:59 pm PT

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 opportunities for close observation of clinicians at work in community health settings in Oaxaca, assisting with 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. Catherine Heaney

Dr. Catherine Heaney, (cheaney@stanford.eduis 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.

Dr. Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa

Dr. Patricia Rodriguez Espinosa, PhD., MPH, is a native of Habana, Cuba, and clinical psychologist by training. She is an Instructor in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health and also serves as the Associate Director of Research for the Office of Community Engagement at Stanford Medicine. The ultimate goal of her research is to decrease health inequities among racial/ethnic minority populations, particularly Latinxs and immigrant communities, through transdisciplinary and community-engaged scholarship. Her research aims to understand factors that create and maintain health inequities (e.g., racial residential segregation) and use these insights to develop novel multi-level interventions and health promotion programs to address the inequity gap and that include multi-sectoral collaborations. Dr. Rodriguez Espinosa's research has also centered around developing the science of Community-Based Participatory Research, citizen science, and other participatory research approaches.

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.

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.

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.