Contemplation in Action: Lessons from Medical Mission Work
How to Prepare for a Medical Mission
- Time commitment: Programs range in length from weekends to months. Clinicians should take into account how much time they can dedicate to a trip by weighing their professional and personal obligations at home along with their level of comfort while working abroad.
- Organization history: Some organizations have been around longer than others, meaning their infrastructures have been tested and have garnered a wider variety of reviews from past participants. Clinicians can research the history of an institution as part of their exploratory process.
- Scope of practice: A clinician’s scope of practice may not be recognized uniformly by different medical institutions and regulations in other countries. “A question that someone will want to ask is how their education will be valued, and will they be able to practice in their scope of care?” said Evelyn Farkas, who leads medical team members during International Medical Relief’s trips. The answer can inform clinicians about what to expect from their experience.
- Safety and security: Medical missions are often located in communities with different safety resources than what some providers are used to; the communities may also be centered in areas recovering from a natural disaster or infectious disease. In addition, some organizations require malpractice insurance as a safety measure for participants. “It’s not just to keep the team safe; it’s also to keep the patients safe,” King said.
- Destination: Medical mission trips take clinicians across the globe, and conditions — distance traveled, climate, seasonal weather — can vary widely. Some programs involve camping outdoors; staying with local host families; or living in hotels, schools, or places of worship.
- Personal reflection: How can providers know they are well-suited for mission work? Supporting others during critical times is a central component of medical care no matter the location. “Most advanced care nurses, for example, are equipped for this type of work,” Farkas said. “It’s often a natural fit.”
- Cultural sensitivity: Martinez said cultural sensitivity training is a common part of most clinical education programs, but some organizations might offer training specific to the community of deployment before and during the trip. Participants can consider building language skills that may be useful while providing care to indigenous groups. “Being familiar with cultural expectations was helpful, not just as a provider, but as a person, to develop rapport and to help patients trust me,” she said.
What to Expect on a Medical Mission
After Returning from a Medical Mission
- Make time to reflect: Returning to work immediately can strain recovery from travel, contribute to culture shock, and set providers up for exhaustion that may affect their ability to provide quality care. Participants can use this time to consider the lessons learned on their trip and contemplate how to incorporate them into their practice.
- Consider becoming an advocate: After the trip, participants may be encouraged to help fundraise for the organization or be an ambassador for the program.
- Nurture relationships with other participants: Some organizations may offer social media groups to continue communicating with their peers, or they may encourage participants to do it on their own.