Vida Medical, Dental & Veterinary Programs in Costa Rica

Provider: VIDA

Join Vida in Costa Rica as a volunteer in their field clinics! Programs in Costa Rica are typically 2-weeks in length.

Volunteers will gain hands on experience in patient care while learning and practicing basic medical examination techniques. Volunteers will work alongside Vida staff and licensed doctors to provide underserved communities with necessary services. Interact with the community and learn more about issues in public health.

There are also opportunities for volunteers interested in dentistry to help facilitate mobile dental clinics. Volunteers will have the opportunity to shadow experienced dentists and oral health professionals. Depending on their level of experience and level of education in dentistry, volunteers may even have the opportunity to perform procedures under the supervision of mentors.

Visit the Vida website to learn more about medical volunteer programs in Costa Rica.

Program Info

Location: 
  • Costa RicaSan José
Volunteer Types: 
Medical
Service Learning
Veterinary Service
Program Length: 
1-2 weeks
Cost: 
See site for details.
See More
Languages: 
English
Spanish
Housing: 
Home-stay
Hotels
Application: 
Online Application

Program Reviews (37)

96%
Positive
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  • Impact
    96%
  • Support
    97%
  • Fun
    92%
  • Value
    97%
  • Safety
    96%
  • Janine DePree
    Age: 18 or younger
    Female
    Miami, Florida
    University of Miami
    Great Experience
    01/19/2014

    This was the best experience. I had no previous experience being a veterinarian, and I learned so much from these two clinical days. The first day was hard trying to figure out everything, but the staff was always there to help. We were busy, but the work was so fulfilling that no one wanted the day to be over. I would definitely recommend this, and I am considering doing this program again another year.

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  • Kelly Siebert
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    St. Paul, Minnesota
    University of Minnesota
    Costa Rica VIDA
    09/16/2013

    the most difficult part of the trip were the long days of travel, however we took frequent breaks and for the most part it was nice to relax. All the staff were really friendly and interactive with us, very willing to help us learn any skills.

    The hardest part with the clinics was that there ended up being 5 doctors so we rarely repeated sx with the same doctor. This was difficult because even if we had done the same sx several times, if we'd never done it with that doctor before, they didn't really know our experience level.

    How could this program be improved?

    It would be nice to get some consistency with the doctors we do surgery with.

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  • Elyssa Katz
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    United States
    Northwestern University
    Amazing
    09/07/2013

    I had a wonderful time on this trip and am definitely thinking about going back next year. Getting real hands on experience in my field was wonderful. The homestays were a great experience as well. I felt that I learned about Costa Rican culture as well as made a difference.

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  • Justin
    Age: 31-50
    Male
    Saint Paul, Minnesota
    University of Minnesota
    Excellent Trip
    09/05/2013

    Very well organized and executed trip. I especially enjoyed the home stay portion. The clinics were well run. There was a good mix of clinic days and recreation days and the recreation events were fun.

    How could this program be improved?

    I would like to see the advanced veterinary students get more hands on surgical experience.

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  • PuraVida.
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    St Paul, MN
    University of Minnesota
    Costa Rica Veterinary Trip
    09/03/2013

    I really enjoyed the efforts that VIDA makes to immerse us in the culture while we were traveling. The home stays and night activities were wonderful and very genuine, which was great!

    The clinic days were excellent learning experiences and the local vets we worked with were very helpful and patient.

    Overall, a solid international learning program. VIDA has some wonderful relationships with communities around the country and that is priceless.

    How could this program be improved?

    One disappointment with the clinic days was that we didn't always get an early start and they stopped taking patients in for surgery at like 2pm, even where there were plenty more animals there that needed it. If we are there, we might as well work until there is no work, right? We only had 6 clinic days on a 12 day trip - I think you should either make more clinic days or get rid of any sort of time constraints on the existing clinic days.

    Also, the way that recovery from surgery is run needs to be reconsidered a bit. Recovery can be a very dangerous time of the surgical process and I did not feel comfortable leaving my mostly unconscious and hypothermic patients sitting in a big pile of animals with one or two people 'watching' 7 at once. If you removed the time limits on the clinic, we could still do more animals and not be so rushed through recovery.

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  • Emily Morehouse
    Age: 18 or younger
    Female
    Columbus, Ohio
    Ohio State University
    Amazing Experience
    08/17/2013

    As a volunteer in the Veterinary program, I found it very eye opening to see how animals are viewed/treated in Central America and how clinics are set up to offer medical services for them. It was also very eye opening for me to see how people in this culture live in rural communities. The food was always so fresh and the people were always warm and friendly. And the country itself was absolutely gorgeous. Although awkward if you don't know Spanish and the family you stay with doesn't know English, it was definitely worth staying in a homestay because it really gives you the full effect of the culture. As for highlights, it felt so good to help out needy communities and to send dogs home with brand new collars and leashes who had come in to the clinic with rusty chains around their necks. Knowing you are not only providing a service for the community, but educating them so that they may make better decisions for their animals makes you feel like you are making a real difference in the world. I experienced a couple of difficulties on this trip. Not knowing much Spanish did make it difficult to communicate with people there; however, there was always someone in my group to help me out. Another difficulty was the fact that they don't use gas anesthesia on patients. All of the anesthesia was intravenous so this made it quite stressful (for me, at least) when monitoring the animal during surgery. But in the end, I would definitely do this trip again!!

    How could this program be improved?

    If I had to change one thing about this program, I would have them consider using gas anesthesia on patients (although this is unlikely to happen since the clinics must be set up, taken down, and must be transportable).

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  • KaitlynW
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Knoxville, TN
    University of Tennessee, Knoxville
    Trip of a lifetime!
    08/06/2013

    I have been to many different countries: Italy, England, Mexico, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. I went on a VIDA trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua last summer and it was by far my favorite vacation of all time! We were doing things that really made a difference in the world. The people were so thankful and it was a very heartwarming experience. Zip-lining was so much fun and the resort we stayed at in Costa Rica was a blast! The views were the most breathtaking scenes I have ever experienced in a country. The only bad thing about my trip was that I got really sick, and I think it was due to parasites and/or bacteria. But, everyone else who was on my trip avoided this problem by taking anti-parasite, anti-malaria, and other recommended medications prior to the trip. If I had the money, I would go on a trip every break I had! Everyone should go on a trip like this! You'll be addicted once you start :)

    How could this program be improved?

    Going from Costa Rica to Nicaragua took an entire day because we had to wait a long time to cross the border. We were in the bus for about 7 or 8 hours from my recollection (which could be wrong). If I were to go again, I would probably do a trip where we stayed in one country.

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  • OSUBuckeye
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    Columbus, Ohio
    Veterinary Program
    07/27/2013

    It was a really amazing experience. We worked hard every day but were allowed a lot of hands on experience and I especially enjoyed the case discussions at the end of the day.

    How could this program be improved?

    It would have been nice to have everything a bit more organized and for the doctors to decide on a single protocol. There were times when every doctor would tell you to do something different and be impatient that you had done it another way. It would have made it easier for us to streamline everything to be able to get as many patients done as possible if there was one protocol and one way of doing things.

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  • Taylor P
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    United States
    University of California- Davis
    Lifechanging
    07/22/2013

    The mere fact that I'm doing an online review of this program speaks for itself that I believe in it and love it so much. I come from a background of no clinical experience, but from the first day of clinic, I was able to ask the doctors and vet techs how to do things, and they would walk me through the entire process, explaining patiently and clearly, so once I heard it once, it stuck. The sheer amount that they let you do is also unbelievable. As long as they think you're confident enough in your skills, they will let you do just about anything, but no worries, they're always watching, so there is no risk to the patient. The homestays were an amazing experience as well, and my Spanish improved so much! And the white water rafting as a recreation day? Let's just say that I found my new favorite hobby. This program is something I absolutely love, and I can't wait to volunteer for them next year.

    How could this program be improved?

    In all honesty, the only complaint I have is that we ran out of time during Orientation Day to go through an emergency Spanish lesson, but high school Spanglish was still enough to communicate with everyone. It just took a while and with the eventual help of a bilingual vet or team leader.

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  • Ali Kath
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    Burnsville, Minnesota
    EYE OPENING!
    07/18/2013

    This experience was AMAZING! I am so glad that I chose to take part in this experience. Not only do you get to experience a new culture, you also get one-on-one experience with people who live within these cultures which makes the experience even more rich! It was truly eye opening, and I will cherish the memories forever!

    How could this program be improved?

    MAKE THE TRIPS LONGER!

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  • Irka
    Age: 31-50
    Female
    New York
    University of Delaware
    Awesome Experience!
    07/10/2013

    I did the Costa Rica/Nicaragua trip a few years back, and I still feel it was one of the greatest experiences I have had. The staff were all amazing and devoted, and the hands on you get while just a student is tremendous. I would recommend this trip to anyone.

    How could this program be improved?

    I think it should be stressed how important it is for people to bring medications (especially flea and tick) to give out to clients.

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  • AIL
    Age: 19-24
    Female
    St. Paul, MN
    Saint Catherine University
    Fantastic Experience
    06/26/2013

    Fun trip, surprised by the quality of two of our hotels- much ritzier than expected. Eye opening and humbling to see and live with the communities. I feel like this trip gave me both the tourist's view as well as the local's view of the country. Couldn't have asked for a better experience! Great people and great staff!

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  • Benjamin Read
    Age: 25-30
    Male
    Boston, Massachusetts
    Saint George University
    All Around Outstanding Trip
    06/18/2013

    From the hands-on day-to-day surgical procedures to the homestay in Turrialba, this trip was truly memorable. The extra activities (rafting, volcano trip, beach day) were also a great way to see Costa Rica. I'd love to go back and do this again someday.

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  • MAS
    Age: 25-30
    Female
    St.Kitts, WI
    Texas A&M University
    Awesome trip
    05/09/2013

    The vets were very knowledgeable and were very good teachers. The amount of hands on experience was just what I needed before I started my last semester of vet school.
    The communities were thrilled when we showed up to help them out. Very friendly.
    The hotel accommodations were wonderful. In very beautiful locations. Also seeing a new country was great.

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  • Comstock
    Age: 51 or older
    Female
    Millerton, NY
    Other
    I don't know what you want here
    03/12/2013

    It is different for me because I've been a veterinarian for many years. I am older and not a member of the U of NC group so I felt very much like an outsider. The situation improved over time and the recreation was good fun. i do feel like I was useful at the clinics which was the main reason that I signed up.

    How could this program be improved?

    It is really a great program for aspiring pre vet and veterinary students to get valuable experience. I can't think of anything to change.

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Alumni Interviews

  • Volunteer with animals in Costa Rica
    Volunteer with animals in Costa Rica!

    Morning: We usually met together as a group at 7am on clinic days, and 7:30 or 8am on non-clinic days. The other two girls I was rooming with (there were usually three of us in a room) and I would get up, take a (usually cold) shower, and go down to breakfast. The breakfasts were usually provided by the hotel (no additional charge). Black beans and rice with fruit (often pineapple and watermelon) was the typical breakfast, although we did get occasional pancakes, eggs, and various types of meat. On clinic days, we would ride together in a bus to the clinic location after breakfast. We would set up the clinics at various locations, including a church, a school, and private property. We would start taking patients around 8am.

    Afternoon: If we were at a clinic, lunch would be provided and everyone would rotate to get food. We would then continue taking patients. Working in pairs, we would do a full exam of every animal we were given. Then, we would prepare the animal for surgery (if it was to be spayed or neutered), including giving injections, setting catheters, and intubating. One person in each pair would become sterile and assist with the surgery, while the other monitored the animal under anesthesia. After the surgery, we stayed with our animal until it had recovered from the anesthesia. We also did other things, such as clean their ears, spray for fleas/ticks, trim nails, inject dewormer, and prepare take-home medications. Professionals were always available to help and make sure every animal was cared for properly, but we got a lot of hands-on experience. A clinic day usually ended around 4pm.

    Veterinary volunteer work in Costa Rica
    Sarah got great veterinary experience while volunteering

    Evening: Our evenings were usually free, although we sometimes had scheduled activities. We were generally responsible for our own dinner, and could either eat at the hotel or walk in a group to a nearby restaurant. Evening activities included a dance class, soccer, swimming in the pool. They pretty much let us have free reign, as long as we stayed in groups and were not out too late the night before a clinic.

    Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer experience was the clinic day that we spent doing livestock. I want to become a livestock veterinarian, so I particularly loved working with the horses, cattle, pigs, and goats. Most of the other clinic days, we saw about 95% dogs and only a few cats. On the livestock day, we mainly gave vitamin injections and dewormer, but restraining the animals for these tasks was very interesting.

    The highlight of my entire experience was the time we spent with homestay families. We got to practice our Spanish, exchange pictures of our families, and really get a feel for the Nicaraguan culture. The families also fixed us our breakfasts and dinners, which was very nice. Each family got a pair of volunteers, so we were not alone there. Then, after the few days that we spent with our homestay family, we had a gift exchange and a potluck with all of the families, which included live music on native instruments. It was a wonderful experience.

  • Views of an island from Costa Rica
    Views from Costa Rica

    Why did you decide to volunteer with VIDA in Costa Rica?

    Natasha: I decided to go with VIDA because after months of researching other volunteer groups, I found that VIDA offered the most hands on veterinary experience. They also had a perfect balance of volunteer clinic days and day adventures making it a very enjoyable vacation.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Natasha: My trip last year lasted for 2 weeks. The first week was spent in Costa Rica and was packed with things to do. Most of the nights were spent in various hotels while 2 of the nights were spent living with a local family (the best part!). We had 2 clinic days with small animals and activities included latin dance classes, a volunteer soccer game with our homestay families, beach, national forest, shopping and tons of great restaurants.

    The second week was spent in Nicaragua and included 3 clinic days (2 small animal and 1 large animal day). We also went to a casino, sang karaoke, danced, went ziplining, shopping, and went on a boat tour of monkey island.

    How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

    Natasha: It helped me confirm my desire to become a veterinarian, and likely strengthened my application as I got into 4/4 of the schools I applied to. It has also made me realize that I really want to continue to work with VIDA for many years to come. Volunteering anywhere is a very rewarding experience, but mix that with a wonderful experience abroad and you really cannot beat it.

  • Tell us about yourself and your trip.

    Paulina: My name is Paulina Alcaraz-Flores. I am from Los Angeles, CA. I am currently finishing my first year in veterinary school and am 26 years old. I attended 2 VIDA trips. One was in the summer of 2009 and the other in the summer of 2010. In 2009, the trip was to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. In 2010, the trip was to Costa Rica and Panama.

    Why did you decide to volunteer with VIDA in Costa Rica?

    Paulina: I decided to volunteer abroad with VIDA because I wanted to get hands-on experience in order to apply to veterinary school. I had always wanted to visit Costa Rica so I thought this was the perfect opportunity. Plus I thought 2 weeks was a perfect amount of time (it wasn't too long nor too short). And since I am fluent in Spanish, I knew that I would be able to communicate well with people living there.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Paulina: We spent 1 or 2 days on orientation, which is when we were taught some basics of spaying and neutering. We spent a total of about 6-7 days spaying and neutering. The other 5-6 days were spent doing activities such as sight-seeing, visiting museums, white-water rafting, etc. On spay/neuter clinic days, we started our days early to set up for clinic and prepare for patients. Throughout the day, we prepared the pets for surgery, assisted with surgery or actually performed the surgery ourselves, and also gave them preventative medications and/or post-op meds.

    Veterinary volunteer holding a dog
    Paulina gained valuable veterinary experience in Costa Rica

    What advice do you have for future volunteers?

    Paulina: I would advise future volunteers to stay open-minded during these trips and to ask questions if something seems out of the ordinary. Things are definitely done differently in Central America, especially in poor communities, but that doesn't mean they're "wrong". It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in helping animals, especially pets that belong to people with scarce resources.

    How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

    Paulina: I believe going on these trips with VIDA helped me to get into veterinary school because they set me apart from other applicants. I also learned a lot on these trips so I entered veterinary school with more experience than some other people.

  • Why did you decide to volunteer with VIDA in Costa Rica?

    Paola: I decided to volunteer abroad with VIDA in Costa Rica because a friend told me she was going on the trip. It sounded like a blast and a really good learning experience. I had been looking for ways to volunteer in the medical field abroad, and this trip was perfect. I researched VIDA and loved it.

    Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

    Paola: The first day we got there, we got picked by VIDA staff and went to a shopping mall all together to exchange cash and have lunch. That night was just a meet and greet at the Best Western in San Jose. We talked about what we expected from the trip and what we wanted to get from it. We also had a survival Spanish lesson from a very nice Spanish teacher. The next day was a full day of orientation.

    The following day, we traveled by private charter bus to a small town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. All the drives we took were amazing because we drove through tiny towns in the middle of the rainforest. The views were spectacular. In Quepos, we went to a nice dinner and went dancing and explored the town. The following day was ziplining!! We then traveled to Puerto Jimenez where we had clinics the following 3 days. The clinics would be from about 8am to 4pm. We would unload the truck, set up, treat patients, have a home-cooked traditional lunch, and clean up. One night we got salsa lessons from one of the interpreters who was a fantastic dancer.

    After the clinics, the entire team of staff and volunteers would have dinner at cool restaurants. One restaurant was on a beach. Another had a soccer field we played a game of soccer in. Others had dance floors we would practice our salsa on. Some of my favorite memories are from these restaurants we would go to. We had one day without a clinic where we traveled to Panama to have the last 3 clinics. After 6 full clinic days, us volunteers and our team leaders traveled to Bocas del Toro, Panama, little scattered islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama. We spent 2 and a half days here just for recreation. Our hotel was right on the water. We took a boat ride to a beautiful pristine beach filled with starfish. We snorkeled and saw tons of dolphins. On the last day, we traveled back to San Jose, celebrated one last night, and flew back home the next day.

    Medical volunteers in Costa Rica
    Paola gained medical experience in the field in Costa Rica with VIDA

    What made this experience unique and special?

    Paola: What made this experience unique and special is that I made a lot of amazing connections with the people I met. I haven't forgotten the names and faces of some of the patients I treated. There was a little girl, Monica, who was so sweet and gave me her earrings off her own ears as a gift of thanks. When she left she hugged me and gave me huge kisses on my cheek. Another patient, Maria, was an indigenous woman in Panama. She was so sweet and grateful and had such a difficult life. She never once stopped smiling and was just such a happy woman.

    I became really close with some of the staff and volunteers. I still keep in touch with them and I am actually visiting one of them this summer. I also became really close with one of the volunteers who lives across the country. We talk often and will be visiting each other soon. I have never had so much fun working and traveling. I met the most amazing people, experienced things I had never experienced, and had the time of my life. I was very sad to leave.

    How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

    Paola: Professionally, this trip has given me very valuable experience. Volunteering directly with doctors and having so much hands on experience made me realized I am on the right career path. This trip is a great thing to talk about in my interviews and applications for medical school.

    Personally, this trip opened up my eyes to the rest of the world. I had been out of the country before, but not in this way. I was completely immersed in the culture. It made me realize there is so much to see in the world and so much ahead of me. I returned home from this trip feeling so happy, motivated, and excited for life.

About the provider

Volunteer abroad with Vida in Central America! With Vida, you have the opportunity to gain experience in three main fields: medicine, dental health, and veterinary medicine. As a volunteer with Vida, you will work with local professionals in these fields in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Working with coordinators from the field, Vida Volunteer work to set up mobile clinics to provide easily accessible services to the people and animals of communities in need. Whether you are an aspiring health-care profession or just have a passion for helping others, Vida will provide you with a meaningful service-learning experience.