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Exploring health care in Central America

By Bradley West '13
December 13, 2012

Moira Wood '13 poses with a poster shortly before delivering a presentation on AIDS in Latin America while studying in Guatemala this semester. Wood designed her own biomedical anthropology major to synthesize her interests in medicine, history, sociology, and public health.

When Moira Wood '13 designed her biomedical anthropology major at St. Olaf College, her goal was to synthesize her interests in medicine, history, sociology, and public health.

This semester she's not only combining those interests, but is also learning about them firsthand through a study-abroad program in Central America.

Wood is studying in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua as part of a program called Social Change in Central America. To supplement the program's coursework, she is exploring the health care systems of the three countries by interviewing medical professionals and students, and by shadowing physicians in local hospitals and clinics.

Wood designed this health care research project in order to complete the senior project that is required of all students with individually designed majors. Her major examines the ways in which biology and anthropology can intersect to affect one's health.

Creating this unique course of study gave Wood the freedom to explore the many disciplines that fascinate her while still retaining a focus on medicine and public health. This focus is central to the work she's doing while abroad.

"My hope is to better understand the situation of health care in all three countries, and to explicitly compare the access to health care in the urban versus rural areas of Nicaragua," she says.

Wood will remain in Central America after the program has ended so that she can finish her research into the health care systems in rural areas.

"I am staying in Nicaragua for six weeks after my program is over, and I will be living in a rural community, experiencing the daily practices of the local clinic, and interviewing community members and health care workers on their perceptions of the health care system in Nicaragua," she explains.

Of course, this research project hasn't kept Wood from delving into Latin American culture, which has continued to fascinate her since she went on Interim trips to Ecuador and Cuba.

"For me, nothing replaces celebrating Independence Day on the streets of Guatemala, hearing the testimony of a massacre survivor in El Salvador, or watching Lion King with my host sister in Nicaragua," Wood says.  "And the joy of being able to speak Spanish every day is worth it alone."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or