Before you apply

After you’ve been accepted

What to expect

Before applying to volunteer at Hospitalito Atitlán, please read our FAQ, which provide detailed information about working at the hospital as well as traveling to and living in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. 

A prerequisite for all medical volunteers is that they are open and willing to working in another culture. If accepted, you will be required to read the Hospitalito Atitlán Volunteer Orientation Manual prior to arrival, which will be sent to you digitally.

FAQ: Before you apply

What is the application process?

Every volunteer must fill out an application, for review by HA administration for every work assignment at Hospitalito Atitlán. Clinicians cannot work in the hospital unless they have been formally accepted and had their work dates confirmed in writing.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Guatemala now requires that all volunteers working in the country receive either a short-term work permit or a Guatemalan medical license (good for two years).

To be accepted, you will have to provide various documents for review by the Colegio Médico prior to arrival:

  • A CV

  • A letter requesting permission to volunteer addressed to Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, HA’s medical director

  • Copies of your:

  • Medical license

  • Diploma

  • Passport (all pages including BLANKS)

  • A letter that either supports your proficiency in your specialty or standing from a university.

What if I have special skills?

When you send in your application, write a little about your special talents to our volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof. If you’re accepted, we’ll try to make the most of your skills.

What are the basic requirements?

There are special requirements for obstetricians, medical specialists and nurses below. Medical students should check out Medical Students/Recent Graduates section.

For everyone else, the requirements are:

  • Minimum four-week commitment

  • Minimum Intermediate Spanish

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field (except for residents)

  • Unrestricted license

  • Written proof of good standing in your professional or residency program

Why are obstetricians more needed than other specialties?

Obstetricians and obstetrical residents are in great demand, because Hospitalito Atitlán does not have a long-term, full time obstetrical provider. Guatemalan medical doctors are generalists and very experienced in pre-natal care, post-natal care and non-surgical deliveries, but the closest Guatemalan obstetrician is almost two hours away.

Volunteer obstetricians are both needed and appreciated. The hospital has an operating room, where obstetrical and gynecological procedures can be performed under spinal anesthesia. Staff is called in to circulate and assist whenever needed, at all hours of day or night.

In Santiago Atitlan, approximately 60 percent of deliveries occur at home. In 2011, there were 136 vaginal deliveries at the hospital. The same year, volunteer obstetricians performed 50 caesareans, as well as tubal ligations, vaginal hysterectomies, cystocele repairs and removal of ovarian cysts.

In addition to helping with deliveries, obstetricians perform ultrasounds, staff our prenatal clinics, and assume care of all high-risk pregnancies.

What are the requirements for obstetricians?

We greatly appreciate obstetrical volunteers.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field (except for residents)

  • Unrestricted license

  • Written proof of good standing in your professional or residency program.

There are no time or language requirements. Obstetricians can work at the hospital for as long as they are able and do not have to speak Spanish.

What are the requirements for specialists?

Although we appreciate volunteer specialists, the hospital is not capable of providing all types of specialty care to its patients. Therefore, we encourage ophthalmologists, endocrinologists, orthopedic surgeons and dentists to contact us.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field (except for residents)

  • Unrestricted license

  • Written proof of good standing in your professional or residency program.

There are no time or language requirements.

What are the requirements for registered nurses?

Registered nurse volunteers work regular shifts, alongside Guatemalan nurses, under the supervision of the hospital’s head nurse. They have also been instrumental in providing additional expertise to their Guatemalan colleagues, as their training is very different.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum four-week commitment

  • Advanced Spanish language ability

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field

Can other medical professionals volunteer?

Yes. The Hospitalito has been lucky to have a wide-range of medical professionals volunteer including paramedics, and laboratory and radiology technicians.

We accept these individuals on a case-by-case basis, so please feel free to contact us.

Requirements are:

  • Minimum four-week commitment

  • Minimum Intermediate Spanish

  • Minimum two-years experience in your field

Do I have to speak Spanish?

All medical volunteers must speak at least intermediate level Spanish. The only exceptions to this rule are for obstetricians, surgeons, and a few specialists.

Intermediate Spanish

Volunteers should be able to:

  • Speak, read and write in the present, past (preterit and imperfect), and future tenses (ir + a + infinitive construction sufficient).

  • Understand everything said by Spanish speakers, conversing at a rapid pace.

  • Interview, examine and treat Spanish-speaking patients without an interpreter.

Is there any financial assistance?

Long-term medical volunteers (six months or more) may be eligible for a housing stipend.

Volunteers spending a year or more with the Hospitalito:

  • May also qualify for an "economic hardship" deferment from their student loan provider. Check to see if your lender provides a deferment for those working volunteer and receiving a stipend.

  • Can request that family and friends support their volunteer stint by making a tax-deductiblegifts to Amigos Hospitalito Atitlan.

What is my legal status? Do I need malpractice insurance?

The concept of malpractice and malpractice insurance does not exist in Guatemala. Still, gross/criminal negligence is not without consequences. Apart from this, you can practice medicine in the country in legal peace. You will not have to purchase insurance or consider third party payment issues.

Will I be working under supervision?

Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, Medical Director of Hospitalito Atitlán, is responsible for all medical volunteers. Dr. Chuc is a general practitioner with 18 years in practice. He is from and respected by our local community.

We expect you to work independently, and Dr. Chuc will not interfere in your work unless he has cultural or medical concerns. If so, he will share them with you with kindness and patience. His word is final on all issues related to the hospital. He is available by phone and will come into the hospital, during off hours, if needed.

What if I have an issue/concern?

If you have any issues or concerns, please speak with Dr. Chuc or the chief of staff. Our nurses, like those the world over, are a rich resource when challenging medical or cultural issues arise. Please consult them regularly.

When can I volunteer?

There has been a surge of interest by people who want to work at Hospitalito Atitlán, so we are currently scheduling clinicians, including obstetricians, three to six months in advance. Specialists are being considered on an individual basis.

We limit the number of volunteer clinicians (MD, DO, PA, NP) to three at one time to enhance the experience for them and HA staff. At the same time, we can also have one, and occasionally two, obstetricians, and two to three medical students (depending on the number of supervising clinicians on hand).

Check out our volunteer calendar to see when your assistance would be most needed.

Remember: Do not make travel plans until your complete application has been accepted, and you have received, signed and returned you Confirmation Form.

What type of clinician makes the best Hospitalito Atitlán volunteer?

Flexible, open and friendly clinicians are best!

Hospitalito Atitlán has a very collegial work environment and volunteers should be prepared to be addressed by their first names or by Doctor/Doctora + their first name, regardless of their experience or status in their home countries. Being comfortable with this level of informality is essential to a good HA experience.

Clinicians who are licensed to dispense medicines are the greatest help to the hospital, especially those with experience in family medicine, obstetric and gynecological medicine, midwifery, emergency medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine and urgent care. Hospitalito Atitlán provides the only 24-hour healthcare within a two-hour radius, so volunteers should be prepared to treat a wide range of conditions. Learn more about our services.

How do I know I would make a good volunteer?

Health Volunteers Overseas has an article, Highly Effective Volunteers, in its volunteer toolkit. Although directed at medical volunteers, it includes advice that is applicable to anyone volunteering abroad:

What combination of skills and personality makes for a highly effective international volunteer?

Surprisingly, the personal characteristics of exceptional volunteers, in any discipline, are remarkably consistent: people who are patient, flexible, adaptable, innovative and open to new experiences and ideas are typically the most successful and satisfied volunteers.

An outstanding HVO volunteer is a combination of skilled health care provider/educator, ambassador, and adventurer,” said David Frost, DDS, MS, Chair of HVO’s Board of Directors. “A volunteer has to be willing to share knowledge and skills in his/her area of expertise on many levels, with specialty peers, interested support staff and patients both in the treatment of routine and complex cases as well as the teaching of techniques from basic to cutting edge. The best volunteers are adventurers – people willing to accept a challenge, something out of the ordinary, which will ultimately enrich themselves and others.”

I would like to know more about the area. What resources do you suggest?

See our Recommended Readings and Links page.

What does the Hospitalito offer volunteers?

Hospitalito Atitlán considers its volunteers an essential pillar in its sustainability. We try to make their transition to Guatemala as seamless as possible by providing orientation and assistance with housing and transportation. We are unable to provide financial support to short-term volunteers, however a small stipend may be available for long-term volunteers, defined as six months or more.

Where will I live?

Once you have been accepted, the medical volunteer coordinator will send information on housing. The Hospitalito has neither staff nor resources to make volunteer housing arrangements, but we do provide housing descriptions and landlord contact information to make the process easier.

FAQ: After you’ve been accepted

How do I know I’ve been accepted?

You will receive an Acceptance and Confirmation Letter from the Hospitalito. Please note that you must have this letter before coming to Guatemala. We are not able to accommodate volunteers who show up without making prior arrangements, nor are we able to allow clinicians to work in the hospital if they have not been accepted or had their work dates confirmed.

All accepted volunteers are required to read the Hospitalito Atitlán Volunteer Orientation Manualprior to their arrival in Santiago Atitlán. A digital copy will be sent to you with your acceptance letter.

Then, please sign your confirmation letter, scan it, and return it to us via email.

Are there visa requirements for long-term stays?

You have 90 days in Guatemala starting with the day of your arrival. If you plan on staying longer, you will need to visit the immigration office in Guatemala City, where you can pay $10 and get an extension of an additional 90 days only. After 180 days, you must leave the country for two nights, after which you can start the process again.

What are licensing requirements?

The Guatemalan government prior must approve all medical volunteers before they can work at the Hospitalito or volunteers must get a Guatemalan medical license (good for two years). We will work with you to make sure you complete the process. View the requirements.

A month before you arrival, you should send the following documents to our medical volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof. Please note that your spot will not be reserved and you will not be included in the schedule until we have received all of your paperwork, which we need to send to the Colegio Médico for review and approval:

  • Your CV

  • A letter requesting permission to volunteer addressed to Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc, HA’s medical director

  • Copies of your:

  • Medical license

  • Diploma

  • Passport (all pages including BLANKS)

  • Letter that either supports your proficiency in your specialty or standing from a university

  • A copy of your signed confirmation letter

What kind of care does the Hospitalito offer?

Hospitalito Atitlán provides the only 24-hour emergency care within a two-hour radius. Our facility also provides weekday outpatient and general consultation, including complete obstetrical services. On occasion, we care for patients who otherwise would be in an ICU but are not willing or able to be transferred. Depending on the specialist on hand, we also provide general, simple surgeries and other specialty care. The Hospitalito also performs diagnostic tests. Those that we cannot analyze are sent to a lab in Panajachel. Learn more about our clinics, inpatient care and most common patient cases.

Does the Hospitalito charge for services? If so, why?

Hospitalito Atitlán is a private, not-for-profit hospital and receives no money from the government, nor is it aligned with any religious or political organizations.

HA has two sources of funding — patient fees and private donations. Without both, the hospital would have to close its doors. Even if it wanted to, the hospital cannot afford to provide free care.

Hospitalito Atitlán continues to operate thanks to donations of money, equipment, medicine and volunteer labor. That is why our volunteer staff and the medicines they bring are so essential to our existence. Charging patients for care and medicine helps pay for the rent, electricity, permanent staff salaries, and essential, non-donated medicines and supplies.

Currently, the hospital charges Q25 ($3.25) for consultations and Q50 ($6.25) for emergency visits. The Hospitalito attends to patients from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. For many of our patients, these fees are extremely affordable, and for others, they are not.

Hospitalito Atitlán has a full-time social worker available to evaluate each family’s ability to pay for services. For those in need, the hospital discounts its services by 25%–100%. Patients are never refused care because of an inability to pay. If you come to HA as a volunteer, you should discuss financial issues with the social worker, hospital administrator or director, never with the patients.

Our board knows that the Hospitalito will never be sustainable based on patient fees, however it feels that those with resources to pay, should do so. In addition, the people of Santiago Atitlán value what they pay for and free medical care and medicines would have less worth for them.

What shots do I need?

No shots are required. However all medical volunteers should be current on the following vaccinations:

  • Tetanus

  • Hepatitis A

  • Hepatitis B

  • Typhoid

In addition, they should have had a TB skin test within the past year.

Those volunteering for a long period of time should consider a prophylactic rabies vaccination

Malaria is not an issue, due to Atitlán’s altitude.

For more information on recommended vaccines and preventive medicines, visit the CDC website.

What does the hospital need?

Check out our medical and non-medical wish lists. Before you come, please make copies and share them with your co-workers, religious congregations, civic groups and friends.

We update the list regularly, and it contains what we really need. If you’re thinking of bringing anything that does not appear on the wish list please check first with our medical director, Dr. Juan Manuel Chuc.

Are there things I shouldn’t bring?

Yes. Here are some example of things they we either did not want, could not use or had problems with:

  • Expired medications — Guatemalan law forbids the Hospitalito from accepting expired medications. If you are bringing medications, please make sure that they have an expiration date of, at minimum, six months from your expected arrival date. Preferred expiration dates should be one to two years after your expected arrival. If you do bring expired medicines, we are forced to pay for their destruction by a medical waste company in Guatemala City. 

    Even though the medicines may still be effective, legal and social requirements prevent us from giving them to our patients.

  • Used clothing — We are happy to receive donations of small children’s clothing in good condition. However, please do not bring adult clothing. In the past, we have received old garments, in sizes too large for the Guatemalan population, and too often in poor condition.

  • Medical equipment that cannot be serviced in Guatemala — Please be in touch with us if you want to bring medical equipment. Provide us with the specific item and model number, so we can determine if it can be repaired in the country. We have received some wonderful machinery that we have been unable to maintain and repair. The best approach is to check the medical equipment wish list (link to ‘wish list’ page) to see exactly what we need.

What should/shouldn’t I wear?

It is best to bring layers, so you can be comfortable during the day and warm at night.

From April to November, it is rainy season with rain most afternoons. The high temperature reaches about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and there are few cold and rainy days. Bring fast drying pants. Jeans don’t dry during rainy season and are difficult to hand wash. A poncho and/or umbrella are essential.

The rest of the year, the temperature gets up to around 75 degrees during the day, but is cool at night.

The Tz’tujil people in the area are very conservative, so it is important to respect local standards.

Also, men and women should avoid military-style and camouflage clothing as this type of dress can mentally trigger the tragedies that the community experienced during the civil war.

Appropriate dress is absolutely necessary for those who interact with patients.

What’s appropriate dress for work?

The dress code at the Hospitalito is business casual, but without a coat and tie. Doctors generally wear slacks and a shirt with a collar or a longer skirt and blouse and closed toed shoes. When seeing patients, physicians should wear white coats.

What else do I need?

Other things you should consider bringing:

  • Good walking shoes

  • Daypack

  • Hat

  • Good small flashlight

  • Sunscreen

  • Swimsuit

  • Towel

  • Insect repellant (if you plan to travel to the lowlands)

  • Motion sickness cuffs or medication

  • Sleeping bag/pillow (depending on where you are staying)

How much money will I need?

Guatemala can be very inexpensive. However, there are good restaurants and temptations to buy that can upset even the best-planned budget.

Restaurant meals run between $4 and $5 for breakfast and lunch, and even more for dinner. The trip across the lake to Panjachel or San Pedro costs around $5 round-trip.

If you watch your spending, prepare food at home, walk or take the Q2-5 transportation around town, you can get by on about $50 per week (excluding housing), however you should budget more if you are bringing a family.

Can I bring my family?

Many of our volunteers have brought their families. Guatemala is a great place for children, exposing them to a different culture and giving them the opportunity to learn Spanish. Long-term volunteers with children can take advantage of several bilingual English/Spanish primary and high schools in Panajachel, which is across the lake. A number of children of Hospitalito staff travel there daily.

What is the relationship of the Hospitalito, Asociación K’aslimaal and AMIGOS Hospitalito Atitlán?

Asociación K’aslimaal (Tz’utujiil for ‘life’ or ‘rebirth’) is the Hospitalito’s founding organization and makes up the hospital’s board of directors. The organization has partnered with the community to ensure that the Hospitalito is a stable institution committed to the improved health of the people of Santiago Atitlán and its environs.

AMIGOS Hospitalito Atitlán is a US nonprofit organization that has partnered with K’aslimaal to raise funds for the hospital in North America. It is HA’s principal international fundraising arm.

FAQ: What to expect

Should I call to make my hotel and travel reservations?

We recommend that you make your reservations via the Internet — phoning Guatemala can be expensive.

My flight arrives at night. Where should I stay in Guatemala City?

We recommend that you stay near the airport or nearby zones — 9 or 10 — where there are small, simple airport hotels that cost $15 - $30 per night. The luxury hotels in Zone 10 provide shuttle service from the airport and have drivers at the airport exit with signs.

Check out these links for more information:

Good general travel information for Guatemala City: www.wikitravel.org/en/Guatemala_City

Guatemala City hotels: www.guatemalaturistica.com/

Hotels near the airport (over $50): www.channels.nl/airports/airports_gua.html

Here is a list of hotels/hostels near the airport, many of which include airport pickup and drop-off service:

Dos Lunas Guest House (www.hoteldoslunas.com/)
21 Calle 10-92, Zona 13 - Aurora II? 
info@hoteldoslunas.com or hoteldoslunas@gmail.com
Tel: (502) 2261-4248 or (502) 2261-4337

Hotel Bed & Breakfast "Mi Casa" (www.hotelmicasa.com/)
5ª Avenida "A" 13-51 Zona 9.
info@hotelmicasa.com or hotelmicasa@intelnett.com
Tel: (502) 2339-2246, (502) 2339-2247 Fax: (502) 2332-1364 

Hostal Los Volcanes (www.hostallosvolcanes.com/)
16 street 8-00 Zone 13 Aurora 1
Tel: (502) 2261-3040, (502) 5853-7016 or (502) 5119-1302 

Hostal Hermano Pedro (www.hhpedro.com/)
6ta Ave 20-53, zona 13, Aurora 2
Tel: (502) 2360-7203, (502) 2261-4419 or (502) 4212-5896

Hostal Aurora II
20 Calle “A” 9-58, Aurora II, Z.13
Tel: (502) 2360-7203, (502) 2360-7213 Fax: (502) 2331-6476

How do I change money?

The airport has an exchange kiosk, although the exchange rate is not good. To the left of this kiosk is a 5B ATM machine. Good hotels in Zone 10 have reliable ATM machines, as does the new Walmart in Guatemala City. There are two reliable ATM machines in Santiago Atitlán and three banks. Traveler’s checks can be changed in the local banks. Dollars and Euros are more difficult to change.

How do I get to Santiago Atitlán?

There are various options, listed in order of those that are the quickest, most comfortable and most costly.

Private van — We can arrange a private van to pick you up at your hotel or at the airport at a cost of Q750 or about $100. If you arrive on an evening flight, we recommend that you spend the night in Guatemala City, as the travel time to Santiago Atitlán is 3.5 hours. The driver can take you shopping and make any stops you want along the way.

To schedule a private van pickup, email volunteer coordinator, Febe Sosof, with all flight arrival information, so that your flight can be monitored. We cannot arrange airport pickups without your airline and flight information. Please send us this information weeks before your arrival date. And please let us know if there are any flight delays. The driver will be waiting for you as you exit the airport. If you cannot find one another, go to the information center and contact the driver (5346-5911) or the volunteer coordinator (4045-5776). Please carry these numbers with you on your flight.

Tourist shuttles — Shuttles run by Atitrans can pick you up at your hotel or airport. (A reservation is required.) Travel time is four to five hours to Panajachel at a cost of $25. From there, you can take a boat across the lake ($3.50) to Santiago Atitlán. From the docks you can take a tuk-tuk — a motorized rickshaw taxi ($1) — to the Hospitalito. For more information, contact Atitrans at: info@atitrans.com or (502) 7831-0184/5572-0288.

Chicken Buses (“camionetas”) — For the foolish traveler, there are second classes buses that leave from the same location almost every hour until 4:00 pm and cost Q35. You will have to take a taxi to the departure site ($6 - $10) — known as “Donde pasan los camiones que van a la costa sur” (Where the buses pass for the Pacific coast).

The chicken buses usually drive very fast, and you’ll have to share your seat with up to four other people. Your luggage will go on top of the bus unless you’re allowed to keep it with you. “Ayudantes” (helpers) will want to help you find your bus. Make sure that you clearly state that you want to go to Santiago Atitlán. The buses have an Atitlán sign in the front window. If not, the ayudante will offer a partial trip, and you’ll have to get off along the route and wait for the bus to Atitlán.

We do not recommend the public buses unless you have experience traveling in the third world or if you have unwieldy luggage. The bus terminals and buses have skilled pickpockets and diversion artists, who find disoriented travelers an easy target.

Where can I stay?

Once you confirm you plans with our volunteer coordinator, you will receive a document listing the housing options in Santiago Atitlán, which includes descriptions and prices.

You can also go online to check out and make reservations at the better local hotels:

Posada de Santiago: www.posadadesantiago.com

Bambu Hotel: www.ecobambu.com

Hotel Tiosh Abaj: www.tioshabaj.com

Is a homestay an option?

Homestays are only successful with a few families that have had years of experience opening their homes to visitors. Problems include food preparation and a healthy environment. We recommend homestays for those who plan on staying a month or more. For about $10/day (Q75), you will get a private room, meals, and laundry service.

Where is the Hospitalito in relation to town?

Hospitalito Atitlán is located just outside of Santiago Atitlán in Cantón Ch’utch’aj — about a 20-minute walk from downtown.

Can I receive mail?

Mail can be sent in your name c/o Hospitalito Atitlán, Cantón Ch’utch’aj, Santiago Atitlán, Sololá, Guatemala, Central America.

Mail can be quick, but larger envelopes go through customs and can take months.

We strongly caution against sending anything of value. If the item you are sending or receiving is of personal or monetary value, don’t send it.

Will I have access to telephone and Internet?

There are several Internet cafés in town that charge $1/hour. Several coffee shops have wifi available with purchase of food or a beverage. Wireless internet is available at the Hospitalito, free of charge.

Cell phones are sold in town for $20 or Q150. Local calls cost Q1 per minute; calls to the US are Q2 (25 cents) per minute.

US cell phones generally do not work in Guatemala. Check with your provider to see if you can purchase a special SIM card that will allow you to make calls within Guatemala, in addition to international calls.

An inexpensive way to call other countries is through Skype or other Internet-based phone service, but you will need a headset.

How can I stay healthy?

The following are some tips for staying healthy while in Guatemala:

  • Consider taking a probiotic or acidophilus for a period of time before you travel to Guatemala and during your stay, especially if you have taken antibiotics in the past year.

  • Use purified water for drinking and when brushing your teeth.

  • Soak fruits and vegetables in water with a few drops of chlorine, iodine or other disinfectants.

  • Eat street food at your own risk!

Where will I do laundry?

If you rent a house, the guardian will find a woman to come do your laundry, weekly or more frequently, if needed. This will cost about Q20 or $3/load. Be advised that hand washing can be hard on delicate fabrics, so you might want to give special instructions. Or, bring more durable fabrics, like cotton.

If you do a home stay, your laundry will be included in the cost. However, if your clothing is heavy or difficult to wash, you may be charged extra.

Also, there are currently two laundromats in town.

Where can I buy food? What is available?

Santiago Atitlán has a thriving indoor market that is open daily. Fresh produce from around Guatemala is available at cheap prices. There are a variety of fruits, vegetables, beans and meats. In addition there are a number of small “convenience” stores that sell packaged foodstuffs. The town also has a number of restaurants.

If there is any food that you must have during your time in Santiago Atitlán, it is best to pick it up in Guatemala City prior to arriving.

Where can I study Spanish in Santiago Atitlán?

There are a number of Spanish teachers, with varying levels of experience, whose classes range from conversation to formal. They include:

  • Rosa, Victoria and Alejandra — The longest standing Spanish school in town, run by Rosa and her daughters, who have many years of experience.
    Phone: (502) 5414-0307.

  • Eco Spanish School — This school is very close to the hospital.
    Phone: (502) 4198-2053 or (502) 4168-8806

What are the major holidays? Where are they?

  • Semana Santa — the week before Easter Sunday

  • Fiesta of Santiago, which celebrates the patron saint of Santiago Atitlán — July 25th

  • Guatemalan Independence Day — September 15th

  • Todos Santos (All Souls Day) — November 1st and 2nd

  • Christmas holidays — Begin in mid-December and last until January 6th (Three Kings Day)