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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University
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Antoinette Kitch '12

Roberts International Intern Works Studies Universal Health Care in Costa Rica

Antoinette Kitch '12

Hometown: Poway, CA

Major: Neuroscience

Minor: Poverty and Human Capability Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Volunteer Venture Co-Coordinator
  • Fancy Dress Fundraising Chair
  • Mock Convention Memorabilia Committee
  • University Store Work Study
  • Kappa Delta

What did you enjoy most about the internship?
I really enjoyed the structure of my internship; everything about this internship was intense and exhilarating. Between the hospital internship, my home stay, my individual Spanish instruction, traveling and making new friends, my month expanded into a lifetime of memories. I enjoyed every moment because I was constantly learning and in the company of good, kind and patient individuals.

What was the greatest challenge?
The language barrier. Coming into this internship I had not taken, or spoken, Spanish for two and a half years. I found myself anxious at times that I was not understanding conversations fully, or perhaps misunderstanding them. Within the first week I realized that people were more patient than I had expected and were always very willing to work with me so that I would not miss out in conversation. Speaking a different language all day long is definitely taxing, but worth a little bit of discomfort.

What was the greatest lesson you learned through your experience?
Costa Rica's universal health care allows all people to get the same exact quality of care--in fact the best quality in comparison to other Latin American countries. I feel that this mentality of equality of access is embodied in Costa Rica in every manner of life. I saw this policy as a valuable mechanism that achieved less violence, more tolerance, an increased national health status and genuine compassion for all people of their nation.

How might the internship affect your career path?
It already has! Seeing the benefits of experience in combination with your education made me even more grounded in my decision to become a physician assistant. Although everything I experienced in medicine was not beautiful per se, this experience augmented my understanding of medicine tenfold. This internship solidified my aspirations of going into healthcare but also reinvigorated my passion for language. Becoming fluent in Spanish is now a tangible goal of mine, which I could not have said before this internship.


Antoinette Kitch is a neuroscience major with a minor in poverty and human capability studies from Poway, Ca. A Roberts International Intern, she spent her summer working in a Costa Rican hospital and studying Spanish through the Instituto Guanacasteco de Idiomas immersion program.

The tropical humidity seemed to stick to the stern cement walls in the open air. It was crowded and lines stretched outside the sala de emergencia--a consequence of universal health care? We will see. I walked freely through the building and focused on trying to find pediatrics and my mentor, Dr. Ali. I passed ward after ward and beds nuzzled one against another. This place was not like anything I have seen; there was no space for privacy here.

Coming from San Diego I have grown up around Spanish speakers, so I knew that it was the right choice to study Spanish abroad. Originally I looked to create a program that would allow me to mix all my interests--I wanted to study health perspectives and medicine in a developing country while building my medical and conversational Spanish. I found the perfect program in the Instituto Guanacasteco de Idiomas. It provided me with a home stay, a medical internship in the local Hospital de Anexion and one-on-one instruction in Spanish to work towards fluency. It struck the perfect balance between rigor and comfort that I had been hoping for. Nicoya is a small town where people know each other and greet each other on the streets with "buenas" (good day). The quaint buildings and houses reminded me of a tropical Lexington, and the people I met there were just as kind and welcoming.

My days ranged in difficulty, but were always exciting. Early every morning I would go to the hospital where I was greeted with fast paced consultations or the last moment of a cesarean. Dr. Ali, my mentor, would always find a time to sit down with me to clarify the inner workings of the hospital, the politics or the health status of Costa Rica. In the afternoons I would meet at the Instituto for one-on-one Spanish instruction that could not help but become entwined with lessons on Costa Rican culture. I would return back to my home stay for dinner with my family and even here the lessons continued. From learning how to cook to "chisme y chistes" (gossip and jokes) to helping my home stay brothers with their English homework, I appreciated the intensity of warmth with which this family greeted me.

This internship allowed me the privilege to delve into every aspect of my experience. Specifically, the health care system in Costa Rica was interesting because Costa Rica has the highest quality health care in Latin America, while the U.S. has the highest quality in the world. However, in Costa Rica they have universal health care, which allows every person in Costa Rica equal access to quality care, unlike the United States. I was interesting to see how health in Costa Rica was not separated into allopathic and holistic medicine, but instead medical consultations consisted of behavioral, nutritional and medical advice. These are just a few things that underline the differences in the medicine of Costa Rica.

My time in Costa Rica--specifically the beautiful Guanacaste providence in the small town of Nicoya--was remarkable. I enjoyed the intensity of my experience the most--the Instituto did a great job with creating an internship program that a person can mull over for the rest of their life. I would recommend this internship program to anyone and everyone who is interesting in interning abroad, as I can already see the dividends this program will continue to provide me with in the future.