Dear Exchange Student,
Welcome to our website, just designed for you!
If you are reading this, you must be considering Panama to be an option for your IFMSA Exchange or maybe you have already decided to come. Anyways, we are very glad to know you have us in mind.
Panama is a wonderful country awaiting you to discover. Even though it is a small country, here two oceans and two continents meet. That is why, when you come, you will notice the characteristic diversity of our land and people. Panama has so much to offer the World, no wonder our National motto is "Pro mundi beneficio" which means in Latin, "for the World's benefit".
The Exchange Program in Panama is relatively new, compared to other countries. But in this short time, great steps have been taken. Each day we are hosting someone we learn something new that helps us always improve.
Our Health Care System
Public health in Panama is administered by two separate entities: Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud, MINSA) and the Social Security System (Caja de Seguro Social, CSS). The hospitals and primary healthcare centers administered by MINSA receive funding from the General Budget of the Government. Those administered by CSS are funded with the money collected from the workers' wages.
Medical Students, regardless of studying in a private or public university, all work in public hospitals.
Most attending physicians ("Médicos Funcionarios") who work in the public sector do so in the mornings. In the afternoons, they leave and go to their private clinics. Others are fully dedicated to either public or private practice. Due to this, healthcare is very accessible to people in urban areas and most rural non-indigenous areas.
For more information, you may access the following websites:
Ministry of Health (Ministerio de Salud)
The hospitals(Panama City)
Exchange students will be placed in two different hospitals, all of them located in Panama City. These are next to each other.
Hospital Santo Tomás This is the "First Hospital" of our country. Although it is not the biggest, it offers almost every specialty for the adult population. It is a Third Level hospital (i.e. they have residency programs).
The Old Building, which is being remodeled, was built during the 1920s and inaugurated September 1st, 1924 by Dr. Belisario Porras, one of the greatest presidents of our republican history. By that time it was considered to be a huge building, that people called it "The White Elephant". But as the years passed, the hospital ran out of space. New buildings were added recently. Today, the hospital keeps its leading status of those run under the system of the MINSA.
For the moment, almost all the incoming students are placed in this hospital.
Hospital del Niño Just beside Hospital Santo Tomás, this is a paediatric hospital which offers all the specialties for children. Families from all over the country come here to seek specialized care for their children.
Hospital del Niño works very closely with Hospital Santo Tomás, to the point that when mothers give birth in Santo Tomás, neonatologists from Hospital del Niño and obstetricians from Santo Tomás work together. Newborn children who need special care are taken to Hospital del Niño.
For those of you who decide to do a clerkship in Paediatrics, this is the hospital where you will be placed.
Complejo Hospitalario Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid de la Caja de Seguro Social It is the biggest hospital in the country. It is known for its surgical specialties. It was built for the Social Security System, and mainly workers, professionals and their dependents are the ones who attend to this hospital.
The hospital is located just in front of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Panama. Right now it is not available for clinical clerkships within our options, but we are doing our best to incorporate it to the IFMSA family.
Our medical education
The School of Medicine(University of Panama) was founded in 1951 by Dr. Octavio Méndez Pereira. It remained as the only medical school in Panama until the late 90's, when other great medical schools were founded in our country: Universidad Latina, Universidad Columbus, Ulacit. The academic offer in the medical education field has grown up exponentially within the recent years.
Basically, our medicals students have 6 years of preparation to be physicians, which are divided in three cycles: basic, pre-clinical and clinical courses.
After medical students graduate, in order to get an unrestricted license to practice, they must pass through a 2 year paid internship in the public health sector. These are considered "Médicos Internos". After that, in order to apply to a residence, doctors take an exam approved by the National Board of Medical Examiners(United States).
When coming to Panama, you will notice diversity and contrast. Because being where the oceans and continents meet, you'll get to see different landscapes in such a small place. Also it is a place where different cultures have met, for it has been destined to be a land of transit.
Panamanians are result of a cultural mix: American Indigenous groups (Kuna, Ngöbe, Buglé, Emberá, Wounaan, Teribe, Bokotas, Bri Bri), Hispanic-American, Afro-Antillian, Afro-Colonial, Chinese, Hebrew, Hindu, Central-European, etc. All of them have contributed to the development of our country.
Some Panamanian Dishes
Most of them may sound similar to other Latin American Foods. But the Panamanian style is very different; it has Spanish Colonial and Afro-Antillean influence. These are not all the Typical Panamanian dishes, there are many more. We invite you to explore our national cuisine!
- Sancocho: typical Panamanian chicken soup
- Empanadas: these are fried or baked, and may contain cheese, chicken or ground beef
- Tortillas: eaten at breakfast, these are fried and thick, made out of corn
- Patacones: fried pressed plantains (“plátanos”), these are salty
- Platanitos: fried sliced plantains
- Carimañola: fried yucca rolls with ground beef in the middle
- Café: coffee. One of the best in the World is produced in Panamanian highlands
- Arroz con pollo: typical rice cooked with saffron and chicken
- Tamales: these come wrapped in plantain leaves and are boiled
Note: you will find a huge variety of International food in Panama City. You can easily find Chinese, Japanese, Argentine, Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, among others; for more information about where to taste different culinary influences, please visit Degustapanama.com
Music and Dancing
When going to a club, you will listen to a large variety of music. Panamanians love to dance with:
- Plena (Panamanian version of Reggae)
- Típico (folk music)
- Electronic music
Measurements, Panamanian style
In Panama, by law, it is required to use the International System. But because of the heavy influence from the US, there are some things still measured in the Imperial System.
- Meat and delicatessen are sold in pounds
- Soft drinks are sold in liters and milliliters
- Gasoline/Oil is sold in gallons
- Weight -> pounds
- Height -> meters and centimeters
- Rope, cables are sold in yards or feet
- Distances are measured in kilometers
- Areas are measured in square meters
- Altitude is given in meters
Customs and Traditions
Being historically related to Spain, most panamanian are Christian Roman Catholic. Traditional celebrations are related to this religious heritage. Each town in the countryside has its own Patron Saint. The day of the Patron Saint is celebrated in a traditional and colorful way in the town. We call these celebrations "Patronales".
The biggest traditional celebrations include the Carnival (before Ash Wednesday), Patronales de Santiago(around July) and Christmas.
However, celebrations other than the Christian ones are also remarkable in Panama among certain specific population. For example, you may see big celebrations for Chinese New Year in the two Chinatowns of Panama City; as well Jewish and Muslim celebrations.
Friends and Family
Most college students live with their parents and brothers. The exceptions are those students from the countryside: they have to find accommodation in the city.
Living with their families or not, parents are usually very supportive to their children. Respect and love towards parents and grandparents are highly regarded values.
We call our parent's friends uncle and aunts (tío/tía), even though they are not relatives; it is considered a sign of respect and friendship.
Meeting someone for the first time, people will shake hands if they are both men or kiss once if they are opposite sex or both women. When greeting an acquaintance, the same applies.
Panamanian Spanish is more related to its Caribbean counterparts than to the Central American variants. Panamanians do not say "vos", usually they regard the second person plural as "usted" and tend to aspirate the "s" in some words. As other Latin American variants, there are no distinctions between the pronounciations of "s" and "c" or "z". Here you'll find some Panamanian slang:
- ¡Qué xopá! How are you?
- La man, el man The girl, the guy
- Eso ‘ta prity! That is pretty/beautiful!
- Esa guial ‘ta buena / Ese man ‘ta bueno That girl is hot (looks nice) / That guy is handsome
- Chilea Chill out, be cool, do not worry
- La vaina The thing (very informal, it is not considered a nice word)
- Cuesta un peso/cuara/real It costs 50/25/5 cents
- Voy pa’ ‘lante I’m leaving (very informal)
- Le dio un faracho He/she fainted
- El tongo The cop/police officer
- Bukin/pocotón A lot, many
- Estoy en un tranque I’m stuck in the middle of a traffic jam
Transportation: Diablos Rojos
A bus system which is not very reliable in Panama City. They are extremely cheap (0.25 USD). These buses are popularly called Diablos Rojos (Red Devils). By law, they should not have loud music, but interestingly they have it and everyone is okay with it: it can be an exciting adventure just to ride one of these, but we warn you: be careful!
Transportation: Metro Bus
The new bus system which has been implemented since the past months. It is intended to replace the "Diablos Rojos" in the following years. They are very comfortable and also cost 0.25 USD
Transportation: Intercity buses
These buses are more reliable. Fares range from 0.65 USD to suburban towns to about 35.00-45.00 USD to San Jose, Costa Rica. This is “the” way to visit the rest of our country, unless you prefer to fly, which is very expensive. We call these buses Chivas.
These are cheap in Panama City. They do not have taximeters, however, the fares are fixed by zones. Always ask a local (who is not a taxi driver) how much should a fair fare be from one place to another. Generally, fares are about 1.50 USD to 3.00 USD.
There is only one train line going to Colón, which is a city on the Atlantic side. Only First Class fares are available. It is a scenic ride parallel to the Panama Canal, and it only takes 1 hour from Panamá to Colón.
Do not worry if it gets too complicated. Your contact person will show you the way to the hospital or healthcare center.
We do not have 4 seasons, instead we have only 2: a dry season which runs from January to April and a rainy season which is the rest of the year. Sunrise can be from 05:50 to 06:40, and sunsets from 17:50 to 18:40; thus, it does not vary much during the year. During the rainy season, it usually rains after midday.
Panama City and the beaches are always hot and humid (24-32°C) all year round. Because of this, panamanians usually take a shower once or twice a day, to cool off and to not feel "sticky".
Highlands are cooler (15-18°C), but are also very humid. Many people leave the city for the mountains on weekends to spend some time with cool, fresh air.
What about hurricanes? Panama has never been hit by a hurricane. Little earthquakes occur very seldom, and they never have serious consequences.
Where to go?
- Of course, you can not leave our country without visiting the Panama Canal: you can visit the Miraflores Locks, which is just a few minutes away from the city.
- Are you look for stunning beaches? Here in Panama you will have plenty of options. During weekends, you could visit San Blas, Bocas del Toro, Santa Catalina, Playa Venao, Isla Iguana or Isla Grande. For more information about beaches, please visit Almanaque Azul(spanish).
- What about highlands? Boquete is a very beautiful town, around seven hours away from Panama City. El Valle is another touristic place with nice weather, surrounded by the quietness of the panamanian forests.
Please refer to official IFMSA exchange conditions http://www.ifmsa.net/public/ecscope.php?id=75
Feedback? Any question? Please feel free to write us to: firstname.lastname@example.org