Interested in the health care profession? Want to expand your cultural literacy and ability to help others? VIDA offers a unique opportunity to do just that.

VIDA, a nonprofit organization that brings future health professionals together to learn through service, encourages cultural integration while providing basic medical services to people (and animals) in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. VIDA volunteers reach out to communities with limited resources, and provide not only medical treatment, but also education on the value of health care, hygiene and public health issues.

Volunteers join VIDA from all over the world to participate in one of three core programs: General Medicine, Dental Health or Veterinary Medicine. They set up mobile clinics and work with local clinic coordinators to serve schools, community centers, churches and more. Participants gain hands-on experience in eye-opening and culturally enriching settings, and provide free health and dental care as well as free or low cost veterinary care to communities in need.

VIDA is unique in that their programs involve much more than job shadowing. Volunteers gain real experience in their field of choice, working directly with patients rather than just observing from the sidelines. Students and pre-professionals in the medical program will have the opportunity to conduct patient interviews and histories, perform basic physical exams, assist with pre-natal wellness checkups, aid in wound care, and present diagnosis and treatment plan recommendations to professional medical staff.

Dental volunteers will work alongside local dentists at clinics to provide patients with oral disease treatment and prevention. Animal lovers can take the next step toward their veterinary careers by participating in the veterinary program. Volunteers will conduct clinics to spay and neuter felines and canines, experience working with larger animals, and get the chance to visit local wildlife rescue centers.

Past volunteers have nothing but wonderful things to say about their VIDA experiences.

Maggie Vogel, a pre-med student at Ithaca College, states, “Words can’t describe how amazing the VIDA trip was! It was the best thing I have ever participated in. It was amazing to make a difference and truly help others. I have made countless friendships and learned a lot about myself on this trip.”

The program makes a huge impact on not only the students, but also the regions that they help. Marla Abstetar, community manager at VIDA, shares, “Thanks to our dedicated volunteers and staff, this year we have been able to treat over 6,000 medical patients, 2,000 dental patients and 5,500 veterinary patients. Not only is this a great opportunity to help communities in need throughout Central America, but also to help volunteers discover their passion and see if the healthcare field is right for them.”

While VIDA’s work currently extends to three Latin American countries, the still-young organization will be growing and developing their programs in the coming years to expand their scope of services and regions of coverage.

VIDA trips are about two weeks long and occur all throughout the year, with the next available trips to begin in August.

Want to travel with VIDA for free? VIDA is currently looking for outgoing, motivated individuals to be Campus Coordinators at each of the universities. Campus Coordinators will earn full trip scholarships by working to define trip dates and countries you wish to visit, and recruiting 20 or more volunteers to join on the trip.

For more information on volunteering with VIDA or becoming a Campus Coordinator, contact VIDA at, and visit their website,