Today marks Day 3 of Exploring the Healthcare System in Costa Rica, and is primarily dedicated to learning more about the healthcare system with several health-related visits throughout the day. This post will focus on the first two locations: the Caulderon Guardia Hospital near San José and the Ministerio de Salud (Ministry of Health).
After eating our delicious breakfast that included fresh fruit and Costa Rica’s famous rice and beans, we departed in the shuttle to Caulderon Guardia Hospital that was located a few minutes away from the hotel. Upon arrival, we met with a representative of the hospital who gave us a short tour of a few hospital floors. She was very knowledgeable and shared some incredibly interesting facts about Caulderon Guardia such as: it was the first hospital to adopt social healthcare in Latin America, its emergency department serves between 400 and 500 patients per day, and in 2005, the hospital had a tragic fire (which we learned later was started by one of the hospital employees with a mental health disorder) that killed several patients and employees. The hospital is therefore undergoing a 2.5 year long renovation that is adding more hospital beds and upgrading some of the services that are already in place. Calderon Guardia, evidently, is very important to the Costa Rican healthcare system, as it provides many specialized services that are not available in other parts of the country and people must travel there if they need medical help in the fields of neurosurgery and others like it. They also have a service that provides care at the homes of people who are unable to travel to the hospital due to extreme illness or old age, which I think would be very beneficial to the general population. Overall, this hospital provided me with a more thorough understanding of how the Costa Rican healthcare system works in terms of the socialistic aspect compared to the United States and how the citizens pay for and seek medical care. A group photo in front of the hospital can be seen below:
This amazing visit was supplemented by a trip to the Ministerio de Salud, or, in English, the Ministry of Health. Our trip to the Ministerio was well timed because it gave us insight into the administrative side of Costa Rican healthcare right after learning about the application of the healthcare. Instead of a tour, the leader of the information session, Adriana Salazar, gave us a presentation about everything that the Ministerio does and some historical context of how it evolved to exist in its current state. To summarize, the Ministerio de Salud is the sole rector of health in Costa Rica, where it acts to keep order in the healthcare system and establish policies for how the social healthcare system should operate. In addition to overseeing the system, the Ministerio employees also collect numerical statistics on certain aspects of health, and an example is shown in the figure below that describes the percentages of premature deaths due to non-communicable diseases:
Such a high occurrence of cancer was very surprising to me because it is not nearly that high in the United States, and I originally thought that Costa Rican causes of death would mirror ours due to our comparable life expectancies and infant mortality rates. On the other hand, I was not surprised to learn that vehicular accidents are on an exponential rise as a cause of death because people are so reckless while driving, biking, and walking in the Costa Rican streets.
Reflecting on the events of the first half of our day definitely confirms my interest in medicine and wanting to be a physician. Sometimes, especially in the United States, it is easy to take our health care system for granted because it is rare to be exposed to another system that is so different. However the trips to these Costa Rican hospitals and clinics help me to realize the crucial similarities and differences between our system and theirs as well as what I like and do not like. Hearing about the expansion of the NICU in some hospitals and how proud Costa Rican mothers are of their babies makes me very excited to hopefully enter this field in the future and help moms from the United States feel as happy about their pregnancy as these moms do.