Who really benefits from medical missions?

May 1, 2013

I recently attended a fundraiser organized by medical students for a Peruvian Medical Mission. As physicians, we enter medicine to help, heal and console patients. For some time, I have contemplated joining an international medical mission to help, heal and console the less fortunate.

 

I recently attended a fundraiser organized by medical students for a Peruvian Medical Mission.   As physicians, we enter medicine to help, heal and console patients. For some time, I have contemplated joining an international medical mission to help, heal and console the less fortunate.

Passion to Heal is an organization started and funded by Medicis, to provide just such an opportunity.

This editorial is geared to starting an interactive discussion among dermatologists about the pros and cons of participating in a medical mission. For this discussion the target for a medical mission would be a part of the world completely removed from the modern technological experience of the United States.

Ongoing care

The assumption is being made that the medical needs of the mission area will otherwise be served by traditional, non-medically trained (from a Western standpoint) practitioners.

The question is, how do the patients benefit from the mission? Having never participated in a medical mission myself, I would assume that patients are given first and foremost an accurate diagnosis. Then they would be given appropriate surgical interventions when possible and given appropriate medications. Often these medications have to be supplied by the medical mission participants. These treatments should offer relief and comfort.

Might it be that patients can be disserved by a medical mission? The expectation of being diagnosed correctly and then being given a treatment that resolves the symptoms will be raised.

But the experience and the exposure for the patient consists of only one day or a few days in their ongoing experience of life. There is little realistic expectation that the treatment needed can be continued, monitored and adjusted as needed without the resources being continually available.

A large proportion of dermatological complaints are chronic conditions where one intercession in the patient’s life will not significantly alter the course and disappointment and frustration may follow. The missionary will not be there to evaluate or know the secondary consequences or long-term effects on health.

What are the benefits to the missionary? You will mostly have to make diagnoses based on your knowledge and experience without the aid of laboratory testing. Being required to do this and being able to do it will ensure the confidence that you have chosen wisely in your life’s path and used those skills to help another.

Bringing hope, healing

To heal and to console a fellow human being who has no access to medical care is what we all strive for. We leave this world a little better one small step at a time knowing that we helped.

I am optimistic that well-conceived medical missions for dermatologists can bring hope and health to underserved people. I invite those with personal experience to respond to Dermatology Times and inform those of us considering participating.