U21 Health Sciences Summer School

Our first week at the U 21Summer School in Chile
is over - and oh what a week it was!

Getting off the plane at Santiago’s international airport was like entering a whole new world, a world filled to the brim with South American culture. After moving through and collecting my luggage it was off to the La Casona Hostel, where all 32 of us summer school delegates are staying for the duration of the trip. The first night was a quiet night while we all got settled in and got to know everyone. It was definitely one of the best nights so far. Getting to meet all of the students from various countries and talking about how different our cultures and values were, particularly surrounding healthcare, was very interesting.


The first official day of the summer school had arrived and I was feeling both nervous and excited to see what it entailed. As a group we walked through the beautiful city of Santiago to reach the host University, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, all the while taking in the incredible backdrop of the Andes and breathing in the fresh Chilean air.

At the University we were all warmly greeted by the amazing summer school team and given an introduction to the week ahead of us. As an opening day special, the team was treated to an amazing lunch at one of Santiago’s best restaurants. With our full bellies we headed off to our first education session on chronic diseases, delivered by Dr. Paola Casanello. The talk focused on some common chronic diseases and went into detail about how parental genetics, epigenetics, and the environment can influence development in early childhood. The lecture was very interesting and set the tone for the next talk on, critical nutrients for early development.

This session focused on nutrient intake, and how it can be utilised within the health system to prevent the development of certain disease in newborns. Following this, we had a brief overview of the group project that we will be completing in the later part of the program. After this long day, we headed back to our accommodation for a group dinner and a good rest.


After breakfast, we headed off to the university again. The first session was about public health, specifically, the implications that maternal nutrition can have on diseases in Chile. Having a focus on the South American health system was a good change, and really illustrated how different things are between developing and first world countries.

Still focusing on public health, we moved onto to the topic of the burden of disease and how early life choices can have severe impacts later on. Overall the emphasis of the day, while being unrelated to my chosen profession of pharmacy, was still very relevant to the overall scheme of the health system, and in some situations can even be related back to Australian health policy. After another interesting day of learning, we were taken on a tour around the beautiful city of Santiago. From the amazing views from Santa Lucia Hill to the incredible museums and marketplaces, we all got a glimpse of what makes Santiago such a great place to live.


Wednesday we had another full morning of lectures which included the topics of; pre-gestational and gestational care, and nutrients,vitamins and minerals in a healthy pregnancy. After this it was time for the group to separate and head off to our clinical visits. This was what I was really looking forward to. Some of the students headed off to the dietician clinic to have practical experience preparing a pregnancy meal, but for myself and few others it was off to the nursing school to learn about infant massage.

The idea of infant massage isn’t something I would look at for medical application, however, it was presented with the idea that it can help establish and build upon mother/child relationships as well as aid in cases of post-partum depression.While this is something I wouldn’t necessarily bring back to Australia or expect to see introduced into our health system, like it is in Chile’s, it did open my eyes to the many avenues one can take regarding infant care.

For the night’s entertainment, one of the Chilean students had organised a get-together at their house. This was a great opportunity for us all to socialise and unwind after a busy day.


We were refreshed and ready to start another day of learning, with Thursday’s topics being, the benefits of breastfeeding and how, as health professionals, we can share these with others. This is an important topic to discuss, particularly in this day and age where there is an increasing popularity of formula feeding, not only within Australia but globally. We all talked about the habits of breastfeeding in our home countries and put forward ideas of how to improve its occurrence during the first six months of birth. Overall it was an interesting topic and quite relevant to most health fields.

We then went off for our second clinical visit, which for me was still maintaining a focus on breastfeeding as we moved along to the maternity ward to observe mothers and their newborn children. The few students who were placed in this visit were able to observe the process of attachment and breastfeeding in a clinical setting, an experience that doesn’t come around often. It was incredible and really opened my eyes to the challenges that mothers can face regarding breastfeeding. It also gave me insight into how beneficial it is, not only for physiological purposes for the mother and baby, but also mental health.

For the evening we headed off to Sky Costanera, the tallest building in Santiago and South America, to see the amazing view of the city pressed against the Andes backdrop. The view was simply breathtaking!


For our last half-day of education for the week, the focus was on physiotherapy, and how both the environment and genetics can affect your psychomotor development. The session looked into the warning signs for certain disorders as well as early interventions that can implemented to prevent them from occurring. The half-day gave us plenty of time to explore the city ourselves and to really immerse ourselves in Chilean culture.

The weekend

We left the main city for a weekend getaway to the colourful port city of Valparaiso. The summer school team had organised a guided tour through the city, so we could see the beautiful views, the unique architecture and the incredible street art. Valparaiso was like something from a movie. The hills and buildings spanned for kilometres, but there was also the bustling city centre stretched along the Pacific Ocean. The pictures just simply don’t do it justice.

Along with the tour there was also a lunch organised at a restaurant overlooking the ocean, a nice way for us to take in the local cuisine and sights simultaneously. The rest of the day was left to us to explore this new city, so most of us headed down to the marketplace to grab some souvenirs to remember the trip.

Sunday was a free day, so the group split and we all tried out different aspects of the city. Some of the students went up to a hiking track in the Andes to take in some fresh air and incredible views, while others headed down to the luxurious beach city on Vina del Mar. However, a few of my new friends and I took the opportunity to go horseback riding through the Andes. It was an all-day ride and gave us some of the best views of the beautiful mountain ranges around the city. The experience was incredible and it was a great way to end an amazing week. This trip is something I will never forget.

Until next time, adiós a todos.