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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


Research Question: How do Chilean family ties impact the physical, emotional and spiritual health of patients in a palliative care facility?

Objective: Understand the role that the tight-knit Chilean family structure plays during the palliative care process and how these family ties affect the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of the patient.

Background: Chile has recently gone through an epidemiological transition. Due to improved access to primary care fewer people are dying from infectious diseases. However, because they are now living longer, more Chileans are now dying from slow-acting noncommunicable diseases. Due to these slower acting diseases people can better predict where and when they will die. Therefore, palliative care facilities have become and will continue to be an integral piece of the Chilean public health system. These facilities must work towards becoming culturally sensitive and adapt to uniquely Chilean factors, such as the family structure.

Methodology: This investigation is a case study of a palliative care facility called Clínica Familia in Santiago, Chile. Due to restrictions within the clinic conducting, an official investigation was not permitted. All of the information in this study was obtained from unofficial interviews with staff, family members and patients or through observation.

Results: The family is not merely an important piece of life at Clínica Familia but rather the focal point of everything. Families take on a burden as primary caretaker and aid patients in their physical health prior to their arrival at the clinic but once a patient has been admitted to the clinic the family members can return to their prior role as spouse, child or friend and focus on fortifying their relationship with the patient. From a spiritual perspective families can aid in the process of providing their preferred spiritual leader to talk with the patient. Lastly, families have a unique impact on the emotional front where they are able to provide support, care and love that the clinic simply cannot recreate.

Conclusiones: The Chilean family is unique due to its tight familial ties and because of the widespread bonds between a variety of people. By accepting an open definition as to the meaning of family, Clínica Familia provides an inclusive space where anyone with emotional attachment to the patient may interact with them and strengthen their relationship with them.


Epidemiology | Medical Humanities | Public Health | Public Health Education and Promotion