IHCAI Costa Rica Medical Spanish and Tropical Medicine Course

By Sonia Dela Cruz

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2020

In life, sometimes we can get trapped in a bubble of thoughts shaped by our immediate surroundings. What I love most about travel is how it widens your horizons, perspectives and thoughts about the world and yourself. When I decided to do this elective, at first I was nervous about traveling by myself to a completely different country that spoke a foreign tongue but I am so thankful that I took that leap. I have truly had a once-in-a-lifetime experience and every moment was an absolute dream. Our days consisted of lessons on medicine taught entirely in Spanish by a doctor and our afternoons consisted of grammar and vocabulary lessons by a language professor. Teaching centered on real-time conversations with questions by the professor and prompts on cue cards that we would ask each other. We learned about the Costa Rican health system and tropical medicine. We learned about culture, word origins, and how each country has unique sayings (for example, “idiay” or “banano” are only said by ticos or costariccenses). In addition, we had standardized patients come in every week that we assessed to arrive at a diagnosis and communicate our plan. We role-played cases with each other during class for further practice. My Spanish improved so much in such a short time because not only were our medicine and language classes taught in Spanish, but I was surrounded by the language everywhere I went and my home stay mom spoke no English so I needed to learn how to communicate well fast! I studied Spanish for 4 years in high school and I fare better writing it, but when it comes to conversing in real-time (trying to translate and understand what they’re saying, formulating a response before they interject or change the subject, conjugating verbs, reaching into the recesses of your mind for vocabulary), that is much harder. I remember being so tired the first week because I was using my brain so much! The staff of IHCAI was so encouraging and helpful the entire time and I really appreciate the high quality of education that I received.

Besides the enjoyment of learning, the weekend adventures were unbelievable. I did not expect to do as much as we did during my 3 weekends here. I got to visit 4 of the best beaches in all of Costa Rica, explore the rainforest by boat and foot, hike to see the top of Arenal Volcano, learn about the art of coffee and chocolate making (even having the chance to make our own chocolate bars from scratch!), see exotic animals like sloths and toucans and trek through the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve which was absolutely magical! I gained a plethora of memories and experiences that I will take with me forever.

Lastly, I had the privilege of becoming friends with people from all over the world who shared my love for travel. We exchanged many stories about our cultures and travel adventures. I met a girl who played pro soccer in Denmark and Spain for a year before entering medical school and another girl who went to Guatemala and Mexico by herself on weekends during her time in Costa Rica. It was not uncommon to talk to people who have been to 5-8 countries already. We all had very different paths in life but it was great that for a month, our paths crossed and we got to share amazing memories together.

My experience in Costa Rica has enriched my life immensely. I am utterly thankful to Jesus for this beautiful unforgettable journey. Pura vida!

CLIC – Medical Spanish immersion course in the heart of Andalucía, Spain

By Sami K. Saikaly

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2017

If I only had one word to describe my month at CLIC in Sevilla, Spain, I would have a difficult time deciding between “increíble” and “priceless”. I can without a doubt label this month as one of the best, if not the outright best, month(s) of my life. Travelling to Sevilla to improve my medical Spanish was an absolute success. During my daily private lessons, I reviewed Spanish vocabulary for the human body and medical systems, including a list of almost every possible question a medical practitioner would have to ask for a basic assessment of a medical admission. One exercise involved describing the definition of a medical word to my professor (in Spanish) so that she could guess what word was listed on my notecard. In addition to learning how to take an HPI in Spanish, we reviewed physical exam instructions and the proper sentence structure for counseling patients. To bring it all together, daily role-play solidified the use of correct terms and grammar. Overall, my comfort level in using medical Spanish has improved immensely after my CLIC Sevilla courses. In addition to the medical Spanish lessons, CLIC Sevilla also included daily lessons (four hours daily, to be exact) in general Spanish. These lessons included reading, writing, verbal, and grammar practice, which only helped enhance my understanding of medical Spanish and vocabulary.

In addition to immersing myself in Spanish classes in the heart of Andalucía, the out-of-classroom experiences proved to be worth their weight in gold. For example, within the first hour after meeting my host family, a wonderful mother (Reyes) and three sons (Manuel, Jaime, y Alfonso), I found myself in a traditional tapas bar eating grilled pork cheeks, a Sevillian delicacy. Yes, you read that correctly, pork CHEEKS. If this isn’t culture shock for a person who didn’t even know people ate pork cheeks, I’m not sure what is.

The number of new activities/experiences which one can undergo solely by living in Sevilla is impressive. Walking past the Giralda tower daily after class never ceased to be breathtaking, let alone visiting the Alcázar of Sevilla or studying by the Canal de Alfonso XIII. One cannot appreciate how skilled flamenco dancers are until attending a flamenco dance class…and trust me, it’s surprisingly difficult. Living in Sevilla during Semana Santa demonstrated a widespread passion, as evidenced by emotional tears as processions passed by and thousands of people crowding almost every street in Sevilla. From attending an FC Sevilla football game (or “soccer”, as we call it in the USA) and salsa dancing in local discotecas, to attending the first (and completely sold-out) bullfighting corrida on Easter Sunday, there were many opportunities to experience Spanish culture. As a bonus, I had the privilege of making friends from all over the world, including Italy, Switzerland, France, and New Zealand, to only name a few.

Finally, living with a Spanish family that speaks little English was perhaps the most influential aspect of this entire trip. In addition to essentially having private teachers at home correcting every single Spanish mistake or explaining when to use certain tenses, I gained a second family in addition to my own. As the older brother of two sisters, I finally had brothers. From playing Spanish guitar and FIFA on the Xbox360, to attending Semana Santa celebrations together, I felt like part of the family. On the first Sunday of Semana Santa, the entire extended family (5 tias, 1 tio, and over 20 primos/primas) came together for a celebratory dinner. Mixed in with the over 25 family members was one American who could barely handle a conversation in Spanish with extra-slow dialogue speed…me. I felt like I was acting in a real-life “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

“How do you like Sevilla?”

“How do you like living with the family?”

“What do you do for a living?”

These questions were repeated non-stop from person to person, all of whom were interested in the “extranjero” who was suddenly thrust into this family-only event. After a month living in Sevilla, I not only became very close with the immediate family, but also met extended family and family friends. Some of these wonderful family members/friends urged me to attend the Semana Santa events with them or insisted that I come have lunch with their families. From start to finish, I was part of the family. I was a “Sevillano”.

Overall, this trip to Sevilla was a priceless experience. Most importantly, my Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds, which I am very hopeful will translate to my patient care during my career. In addition, I have learned more about Spanish culture and customs. Without a doubt, the hardest part of leaving Sevilla was leaving my second family, my Spanish family. Thankfully, the availability of Whatsapp makes the world a small place now. To those who are considering whether studying medical Spanish in Sevilla is worth the cost and travel time, please consider this reflection as a resounding “yes”. Your medical Spanish will absolutely improve, and hopefully, you’ll forge friendships and relationships which will last a lifetime.

Julia Vaizer - CLIC 2.jpgCLIC – Medical Spanish in Seville, Spain

By Julia Vaizer,

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2016

Hello Dr. Simms-Cendan,

I am soooooooo grateful to you for suggesting this rotation. I really, really enjoyed it. Considering that I spoke no Spanish in the beginning, the teachers helped me to make significant advances and learn how to communicate on at least basic level. Med Spanish was one on one and she only spoke Spanish to me, so I had to adapt fast. We practiced anatomy, syndromes, common phrases, went over all the organ systems,  and as the time went on, we reenacted patient-physician interactions for common complaints (including the “do you think it’s cancer?” followed by tears and attempts to console patient in my broken Spanish).  Also, CLIC offers many cultural and educational activities, lessons or trips that are either free or extremely affordable so we had the opportunity to travel on weekends to places like Granada, Rhonda and other little towns nearby with other students and guides for very cheap.  I strongly recommend the program to any of the students from our school.

Additionally, we met some friends who are resident physicians at the local hospital and they taught us a lot about the medical education system, Match process and healthcare in general. They also showed us the hospital and the emergency department,  of course. And Seville is just so gorgeous! Maybe I’ll move there one day. This has been one of the happiest months in my life!

Regardless, the school gave me strong basis in both basic and medical Spanish,  and now I should be able to continue learning the language on my own.

If any of the students have any questions that I can answer, I am more than happy to help!

Pediatric Rotation – Red Cross Children’s War Memorial Hospital

By Mark Siegel

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2015

Most days were 8am to 4pm (Tues-Friday), Monday consisted of lectures with 5th year medical students.

I worked in the S11 Short Stay Ward. Patients would be admitted here if they were predicted to be sent home in less than 48-72 hrs. or if they were awaiting beds to become available in the hospital. Many opportunities to do procedures (lumbar punctures, drawing blood, induced sputum collection). Additionally there were many options to explore other clinics in the hospital (medical emergency, pediatric sub specialties). The faculty were unbelievable clinicians and were exceptionally dedicated to education of their students. A significant amount of time was spent on rounds educating students and discussing the most appropriate management of patients. Lunch seminars were three times a week and consisted of journal clubs and case presentations. I worked with residents and 6th year medical students (comparable to our 4th year). There were also 3 other international students, two from Atlanta and one from Switzerland.

Of note I was initially placed at the Groote Schuur Pediatric wing. This site is mainly a secondary care center and specializes in endocrinology. The lead faculty member at this site was not aware of my scheduled rotation and I was therefore placed at the Red Cross. This is the most advanced pediatric care center in South Africa and at one point was the first pediatric hospital in entire continent of Africa. Normally, a position at the Red Cross requires 2 year advance sign up but I was fortunate to have a spot available for placement. In the future, most students who request general pediatrics will be placed in the Groote Schuur pediatric floor. I would recommend they request the Red Cross as it has more to offer, but I am unsure if it is possible to be placed there.

I am happy to answer questions for other students who want to travel to Cape Town for a rotation!

Reflections from Peru 2014

By Hailee Stewart

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2018

The medical mission trip that I took to Peru was a very valuable experience because it provided numerous educational patient encounters, mentoring from physicians of different specialties, and an opportunity to network with students from other medical schools.

Over the course of two weeks we saw patients in two very different clinical settings. The first week was spent in Cuzco, Peru at the La Fuenta Clinic. Here we saw and treated many Quechua Peruvians who did not speak English or Spanish. While the language barrier was an obstacle to work around, we were still successful in providing important treatments and in educating many patients. The students were rotated through different physicians and areas of the clinic. By the end of the week I had worked with a pediatrician, sports medicine physician, family practitioner, and as a lab assistant. Having the opportunity to work with different physicians was one of the many highlights of this trip.

In the second week we traveled to Puerto Maldonado to set up a clinic in a local church. My first day here was spent organizing our pharmacy and medications. This was an invaluable educational experience because I was challenged to review pertinent pharmacology and assistant the many physicians in finding an available treatment that would meet their needs. While in Puerto Maldonado I also had the opportunity to work with an adult emergency medicine physician and a pediatric emergency medicine physician. The variable range of specialties that were represented by physicians on this trip gave me the opportunity to learn a great deal about many different areas of medicine.

The physical conditions on this trip were challenging. The temperatures ranged from 50 degrees in Cuzco to 98 degrees in Puerto Maldonado. We encountered thunder storms, travelers’ diarrhea, and altitude sickness. Through all of this we worked together as a team and had great success in bringing healthcare to many impoverished Peruvians. This experience reinforced my belief that the opportunity to serve in the medical field is a privilege that I am thankful for. I also realized that even the most challenging working conditions can seem trivial, when you are working with a good team.

Dr. Simms-Cendan’s Blog: Ethiopia 2/2014  

By Wendi Sarubbi

Assistant Vice President, Communications and Marketing

UCF College of Medicine


Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UCF College of Medicine and also serves as the college’s Director of International Experiences. UCF has developed a partnership with the new Myungsung Medical College in Ethiopia to help establish the new school’s curriculum, testing and other processes. Dr. Simms-Cendan is spending the next two weeks teaching at the school and will be writing a periodic blog on her experiences.

Saturday morning is a work and school day in Ethiopia, so after arriving early Saturday after a 12-hour flight from Washington DC, I went straight to work with local faculty members. For the next two weeks I will be teaching the reproductive module to second-year students at the Myungsung Medical College. Like the UCF College of Medicine, this is a new medical school but in a resource poor country made up mostly of subsistence farmers. The lack of resources became immediately apparent to me as I witnessed a woman making hundreds of flat breads (called injera) from fermented seed for the hospital cafeteria. Her kitchen was a re purposed shipping container.

Women here face serious public health issues — high maternal mortality rates, genital mutilation and obstetric fistula, a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor that renders a woman incontinent. But despite these challenges, the country is at a crossroads with new investment from the Ethiopian diaspora and an emerging upper and middle class who demand and can afford better healthcare. This is pushing the whole country forward, especially to meet its development goals for the 21st century.

Thanks to support from the UCF College of Medicine’s Educational Technology team, I have introduced students here to the high-tech audience response clickers we use in Orlando. The clickers were well received today by the students, especially in a culture where sexual and reproductive topics are not discussed openly. Using the clickers helped me learn that 38 percent of the class learned about sex from their friends, only 3 percent learned about the topic from family members or their doctors, and the rest learned about sex from TV.

In the next two weeks I will be providing 30 hours of educational content and giving grand rounds at local hospitals on subjects in adolescent gynecology, my area of specialty.

Myungsung Medical College is run by the Korean Presbyterian Church and my Korean hosts have been exceptionally warm, as have the U.S. surgeons who are here augmenting the hospital staff. All are truly dedicated to serving patients and are excellent role models to these young doctors in training.

Best-Selling Humanitarian Author Visits College Of Medicine

Click here to read the article posted on our COMmunique Newsletter.

Haiti Spring 2011- “Sante Po Yo” experience

By Dennrik Abrahan

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2014

Date of visit: March 19-25, 2011

Residence: Sante Po Yo guesthouse. The guest house was very clean and very safe. The staff provided fresh linens, towels and cooked three times a day. The food was delicious and was cooked with clean purified water. My room had two queen size beds and an attached bathroom with a shower. My room also had electricity at night and bed nets. It was spacious and very clean.

Volunteer work: I volunteered both at the Sante Po Yo clinic and off site in the villages. At the clinic, I obtained a complete medical history from patients (I had an interpreter working with me), vital signs and I performed basic exams such as breast exams and administered glucose tests and urine dip sticks as recommended by the doctor. All patients then saw the resident doctor at the clinic to be diagnosed.

While off site in the villages, I worked with a team of American physicians who were seeing patients and recommending treatments and providing medications. The attending physician taught me how to administer subcutaneous and intramuscular vaccines. I was administering vaccines to over 100 kids/day. At first I was supervised by the attending but as I became very comfortable with the injections and administering oral vaccines I was in charge of the station. The attending was nearby to help if needed but he was also seeing patients. I had gloves, antiseptic and band-aids as well as stickers for the children. We used disposable needles and had sharps containers to dispose of used needles.  The whole time, an interpreter was at my side to help me communicate with patients and their parents.

Also, the physicians on the team were kind enough to call me over to see interesting cases and learn. I was able to listen to heart murmurs, look at skin diseases and even see a case of ectopic cordis.

During non-medical volunteering, we also worked on different projects. For example, I helped deliver water buckets for water filters to the surrounding villages.

Overall, the trip was a great success. At all times I felt very safe and protected. The accommodations were excellent and the volunteer work was very organized and engaging. I would highly recommend the Sate Po Yo center for future mission work. The whole experience was very educational and eye opening.

Haiti, Vaccination Initiative Summer 2011

Dennrik Abrahan, volunteer coordinator for Haiti Village Health, has written an excellent critical appraisal of work done with a pediatrics team providing vaccination and primary care to children in Haitian rural villages in the summer of 2011. Haiti Village Health is a non-governmental organization that operates in Bod me Limbe, Haiti. Click here to read his summary.

CFHI Andean Health Program – Quito, Ecuador 2011

By Sam Ulmer y Jenn Bazemore

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2014

This summer, we traveled to Quito, Ecuador for 4 weeks to participate in the Child Family Health International’s Andean Health Program.  The trip included about 35 hours of Spanish classes, Ecuadorian culture classes, sessions about the healthcare system, and sessions about problems that need to be addressed in the health care system.  Health care and medication is free for everyone in Ecuador!! The physicians are paid very little (around $800/month) to work in the public clinics from 8am-noon.

We also spent 3 weeks in various clinics throughout Quito.  The first week we spent with Dr. Marquez in La Maternidad, the largest women’s health hospital in the country, a.k.a. the “baby factory.”  With women lined up in the ‘dilatación’ room waiting to move into the ‘parto’ room to deliver, it was definitely an interesting experience.  There is no privacy, very little confidentiality, and no family allowed due to limited space.  Our second week was spent at a pediatrician’s office and we found that everyone has to be there before 8 am to get their blood pressure, weight, and height taken all at once before the physician sees any patients (i.e. no nurses).  Our final week was spent in the south of Quito at an internal medicine clinic. This clinic was more organized and more similar to a clinic in the United States.  Our preceptor was also teaching the “post-grados” or residents and it was very interesting to listen to their presentations about things like diabetes drugs or the mechanism of production of thyroid hormone.  Our clinic experiences were overall very interesting, although we did not get to interact with patients as much as we had wanted due to limited time available with each patient.

We also had quite a bit of fun traveling to other cities on the weekends and in the afternoons traveling around Quito.  We took a dip in the hot springs in Banos, zip-lined through the cloud forest of Mindo, shopped the artisan market in Otavalo, stood on the Equator (where Ecuador gets its name!), and snorkeled with sea lions in las Islas Galapagos!

The trip was fairly expensive (about $3000 after airfare and before extra trips; weekend trips were cheap, except for the Galapagos) and the clinical experience could have been better if we were permitted to have more time with the patients.  We did give them feedback about this and it was suggested that we have time to interview the patients before they see the physician and we feel this would make the experience better.   Ultimately, we had a great experience through this program.  We learned a lot about the culture, people, and city of Quito.


rida, Mexico: Summer 2011

By Clay Mitchell

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2014

In June of 2011 I was fortunate enough to be invited on a mission trip to Mérida, Mexico with the SHARES surgical team from Florida Hospital.  SHARES is an organization that travels to regions in need of specialized surgical care related to cleft lips and palates and provides free medical attention to individuals with these conditions.  Before this trip I had no experience in the operating room and my knowledge of cleft lips and palates was limited.   I was looking forward to learning as much as I could during this unique experience.

During my time in Mérida, I observed and participated in many different specialties of care.  Patient screening, anesthesia, surgery, and postoperative care were some of the disciplines in which I assisted.  Seeing the operation from so many perspectives afforded me the opportunity to learn exactly what a patient goes through during such an invasive process.  It was also especially rewarding to reunite a mother with her child moments after such a life-altering event.

One of the greatest facets of this trip was the sense of teamwork.  My role throughout this experience was not as an outsider looking in, but rather as an integral member of a team of medical professionals seeking to make a difference in the lives of others.  Each person had a task to accomplish and we all depended on one another to reach a common goal.  As much as I learned about medicine and the practice of healthcare both domestically and abroad, I may have learned just as much about the people of Mérida and the cultures of the Yucatan.  Discussing issues with the locals and hearing their ideas and beliefs educated me in a way that no textbook ever could.  My experience with SHARES was one I will never forget.

Dominican Republic 2010

By Robert C. Palmer

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2014

After graduating my Wake Forest University in May 2009, I was fortunate to receive a pair of scholarships that literally took me across the world.  I was stationed principally in Santiago, Chile and Granada, Spain.  Being from Avon Park, FL—a rural town located south of Orlando—and having almost no international experience, I was enthralled by the constant influx of fresh cultural perspectives and the unique world views that I had yet to experience in the US.  These revelatory trips have formed the cornerstone of my passion for global medicine and ignited my desire to continue seeking similar international experiences.

Thank you for your generous donation which made my trip to the Dominican Republic possible.  It was humbling as well as inspiring to see a people manage with few resources and little governmental aid.  However, it would be false to believe that such conditions can continue.  Hopefully, we can improve the health care delivery in that area through the connections that were made with physicians and university officials of the Jarabacoa region as well as the continued philanthropy from the Orlando community.  Such endeavors not only contribute to better our neighboring international community, but they also improve students’ cultural competency and ability to adapt to an ever connected global society.  I sincerely appreciated this invaluable didactic opportunity.

Dominican Republic – December 2010

By Ruth Strakosha

UCF College of Medicine, Class of 2013

During our White Coat Ceremony, my colleagues and I received a blank card on which to write some dreams we would like to see realized at the College of Medicine.  One of mine was that UCF COM would establish an international clinic.  Working with the people of Los Hijos de Hatillo in Jarabacoa was the beginning of making that dream come to be.  I am forever grateful for the support that allowed me to begin working on that dream.

This experience was one of the first times when I cared for patients from beginning to end, and in Spanish no less.  Aside from the rich educational experience, it was personally rewarding to work so closely with students, clinicians, and volunteers from USF and Jarabacoa.  This experience refreshed my drive to learn and gave me new perspectives on my medical education.

Although we provided medical care to the people of Los Hijos, I realized that what their community most needed was food and emotional and social support.  We are now working on establishing partnerships within the Dominican Republic to improve the long-term health and livelihood of that community.  This was only possible because we had such encouragement from our supporters here in Florida.  Although my first stay in Jarabacoa was brief, it has begun what I hope will be an involvement for many years to come.  Thank you for making it possible for me to be a part of this incredible project.