Volunteerism runs deep in medical circles. The daily business of saving lives certainly creates empathy for those in need. While our physicians improve the lives of others daily, medical mission work is a more formal step sometimes requiring months of training and weeks away from home.
We recently asked our doctors, “Have you ever done medical mission work?”
- 37% responded no, but would like to volunteer
- 37% responded no, and were not interested
- 18% said they have through a local/domestic organization
- 8% said they have through an organization aboard
Our doctors shared wonderful experiences about their mission work. One doctor wrote,
“I have been involved for years with a local group of doctors who provide surgical care to those in low resource countries. The work is challenging but rewarding – no administrative, insurance, legal hassles. I feel like a real doctor, using skills learned in medical school long since abandoned due to technology, regulations and so on. The patients are just so appreciative and wait patiently for hours to be seen. If possible, I would do nothing else.”
International vs U.S. based work
Beginning in the late 1800’s, medical mission work developed as a way to share advancements of western medicine to the rest of the world. Today, you can find hundreds of different organizations supporting both international and domestic relief. Both types of organizations commonly focus on impoverished communities so why would someone choose one over the other?
Mission trips vary in length, depending on the location and organization. Of our physicians who said they completed mission work, the majority of them have only worked with U.S. based organizations. American organizations are more accessible for physicians who already work long hours. They could volunteer over a day or a weekend. In contrast, the usual length of international missions varies from a few weeks to months. Travel and living costs are not covered by organizations and international travel can be quite costly.
If expenses and time are not factors, consider these points when volunteering:
- Your faith. Mission trips are commonly faith based, but there are trips sponsored by nonreligious organizations as well.
- Your sense of adventure. Volunteering overseas will bring in a lot of new experiences and possibly uncomfortable situations; language and culture barriers.
- Simple life necessities. Can you adjust to not being able to shower, running water, or electricity? If you’re considering international, you will need to think about how you deal with these types of situations.
- Where you want to give back. What is most important to you? If giving back to your community is close to your heart, a local organization is your obvious choice.
Lastly, research other people’s experience. We sent our Community Director Christian Rubio on a short stint with Floating Doctors to Panama last year and put together a short documentary about the experience.
Why would someone not want to volunteer?
According to one doctor, “I feel like I do mission work every day seeing Medicare/Medicaid and ACA patients. No need or desire to do this offshore.”
Do you have experience with domestic or international medical mission work? Do you want to share why you do or do not volunteer? We would love to hear your stories. If you are an M.D. or D.O., will we be continuing this discussion in Sermo.