Hispanic Culture: Health & Education

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

In this lesson, we will see the organization of the health and educational systems in Hispanic countries. Keep in mind that Hispanic countries are different from each other and each may have peculiarities in their health and educational systems.


Public Healthcare

The Seguridad Social is a state agency that receives money from the state through taxes paid by citizens. Seguridad Social provides free health services to all citizens. When a citizen needs medical treatment, he or she can go to a public hospital. They will be asked for their tarjeta de la Seguridad Social, the document showing that they are enrolled in the public healthcare system. Many countries also have an emergency health service. Public healthcare usually covers most of the population's needs. But this depends on each country, the economic circumstances of the state, and the politics of each government. In this way, there are certain medical services that the public healthcare system does not cover.

Organization of the Public Healthcare System

Within the healthcare system, we find several places where health services are provided. These are:

  • Consultas: This is the place where a doctor works and is usually where they first examines their patients.
  • Ambulatorios: Here there are several specialists. Surgical operations are not performed in these centers, only treatments that allow the patient to return home immediately.
  • Hospitales: This is where the most difficult and longest treatments and surgical operations are performed. In the hospitals, there are different repartos, or sections of the hospital dedicated to certain medical specialties. For example: maternidad (maternity), traumatología (traumatology), oncología (oncology), medicina interna (internal medicine), urgencias (emergency), etc.

When a person is ill, the first thing they usually do is go to their médico de familia (family doctor). These doctors know the symptoms and treatments of the most frequent diseases. If the médico de familia thinks the disease can be serious, they send the patient to an especialista (a specialist).

When a patient goes to the hospital, they may need to stay in a hospital room for a few days. This is called ingresar. Finally, when the patient is cured, the doctor gives them permission to return home. This is called dar el alta: El médico da el alta al paciente (The doctor releases the patient).

Private Healthcare

Some people prefer to have private health insurance. To do this, they must pay a monthly fee to a private company and, in return, can have health services when they are needed.

This is called seguro médico. The monthly amount that is paid is the cuota. Private medical insurance is organized in a manner similar to the public. There are also consultas, ambulatorios, and hospitales here.

There are two main differences between public and private healthcare:

First, in private health care, the médico de familia is not usually approached; patients can go directly to the especialista. Second, private medical insurance covers medical needs that are not covered by public health care, such as plastic surgery or dental services.

Finally, in many Hispanic countries there are medical services that are called concertados. These are mixed medical services that receive money from the state and from private organizations. Sometimes, some companies offer these medical services to their workers.


Education is another fundamental right. As with health, education in Hispanic countries can be public or private.

Educational Stages

Formal learning is typically divided into a number of educational stages. These may be slightly different in the different countries, but basically they are the following:

  • Guarderías: These are centers where children are cared for and educated from infancy until they are three years old (although ages may vary slightly depending on each country). They are usually private or located within the work centers of parents. However, in Hispanic countries, many families decide not to take the children to guarderías and leave them in their homes where various family members help to care for them.
  • Educación preescolar: This usually goes from age three to six. In most Hispanic countries, elementary schools also offer educación preescolar, so children typically start at age three. This stage of education is not compulsory. However, most families send children at age three to school to start with educación preescolar.
  • Educación primaria: This usually runs from ages six through twelve. This stage is compulsory. Children learn to read, write, and begin to study the main subjects: matemáticas (Math), geografía (Geography), gramática (Grammar), and historia (History). They also begin to study a second language, which is usually English (but sometimes other languages).
  • Educación secundaria: This stage of education varies more from country to country. In general, it usually goes from the age of twelve to eighteen. This stage is compulsory until the age of fourteen or sixteen (depending on the country). At this stage, students study more specific subjects that they can choose.

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