Universal healthcare: A student’s perspective

(CONTRIBUTED/ Charlotte Pryor)

Charlotte Pryor, a senior psychology major from Troy, interning in a medical clinic in Costa Rica this summer as a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholar.

Charlotte Pryor


One of the great opportunities gained from studying abroad in Costa Rica is learning firsthand the meaning of universal health care. Costa Rica offers universal health care to everyone. The United States does not have this luxury; so, why is universal health care a sought-after system?

This summer, I was selected as a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholar, and I shadowed medical providers and reviewed medical Spanish for four weeks in Costa Rica. As an intern, I rotated at all three levels of health care in Costa Rica, and I learned that there’s a different treatment at each level.

First are the EBAIS clinics that handle basic primary care needs. Translating to Basic Teams of Global Health Care, the location of EBAIS is important for the citizens of Costa Rica. Technical assistants and nurses travel to investigate living conditions in patients’ homes to ensure adequate conditions and routinely check children’s eyes during exams at schools. Technical assistants record cases and report findings to the Ministry of Health.

The second level of care includes regional hospitals to which patients are directed if their conditions are too severe to be treated at a local EBAIS clinic. I shadowed medical residents at the San Rafael de Alajuela Regional Hospital, the designated regional hospital that oversees at least 500,000 people who live in the area. I witnessed firsthand overcrowding in the hospital.

The final level of health care consists of national and specialized hospitals that are dedicated exclusively to fields such as pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, and other areas. Luckily, I shadowed at one of the best palliative care centers in Costa Rica. The Clínica de Dolor (Center of Pain) has the potential to treat complex cancers, some of which occurred in young adults ranging from 23 to 30 years of age.  As they can with all other health care services in Costa Rica, families can send their children to this hospital at no cost.

Although the quality of the health care system is considered among the best in Latin America, the truth is Costa Rica abolished its army to help finance the country’s health care and education system. Regardless of someone’s socioeconomic status, employers pay 9% to 23% of the workers’ salaries toward the country’s social security system, referred to as La Caja.  Unemployed residents also receive free health care services.

The question here is this: is universal health care a good system to propose everywhere? As a student, I found it difficult to believe that Costa Rican health care outcomes are of excellent quality. However, the economic disparity among physicians, the low mortality rate, and high life expectancy have shown that universal health care has its pros and cons.

As a global citizen, I prioritized leaving Costa Rica with an expanded view on their health care system. The system’s focus is on prevention, rather than on disease treatment, a focus linked to better long-term health outcomes.

At the current time, there are 13 faculty-led study abroad programs approved for this academic year. The Chancellor’s Award for Global Competitiveness Scholarship is now available one time per academic year for eligible students. Students who are interested in learning more can contact Sarah McKenzie by email at troyabroad@troy.edu, or visit her in her office at 037 Hawkins Hall.

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