17 June 2015

An Opinion on Medical Volunteerism

Most of us working within the health professions selected our careers out of a compelling desire to help and heal others.  There is no doubt that medical volunteers on short-term missions receive an intrinsic reward, especially when the poorest and most vulnerable around the world are so in need.  Exotic people and places adds to the charm and the challenge.

HOWEVER, the best of intentions and a "feel good" on the part of the doer, often does not  result in positive, long-term change for desperate recipients.  In fact, short-term U.S. medical outpatient teams that enter another country distributing medications that may not be available to the patient after the prescription runs out, or treating diseases of poverty such as dysentery, scabies and malnutrition without collaborating with locals on solving the root causes of these conditions is at best, only
delaying the return of these preventable conditions and offers no long-term solutions.

Here are  "ICARE" steps to prepare short-term medical teams to make a lasting difference.

Before going:
I - Investigate and observe rules/laws of the host country regarding licensure, scope of
     practice and professional conduct of all categories of health professionals, including students, on
     the team.  Learn and abide by rules as to what supplies may be brought into the
     country.   Remember, volunteers are guests working at the direction and discretion of their hosts
     and must depend on them for guidance. VOLUNTEERS ARE NOT IN CHARGE.

Before and After arrival:
C- Collaborate and connect with local departments of health, and the local missionary or project
      host and local volunteers. Learn prevailing health issues and what supplies/medications are
      needed.  Ask, "What can the team do to be most helpful?" Western medical protocols may not be
      culturally relevant in an unfamiliar country.

A - Act in response to locally determined health needs, seeking ways to extend the impact of those
      actions through short, episodic visits and by leaving relevant learning materials, videos, tools

R - Build Relationships within the local community and nurture them into long-term partnerships
      built on trust and demonstrate Christian Love in Action.

E - Educate and Empower - adopt a model of collaboration and mutual learning.  Together, discover
      solutions to unresolved health issues and work toward their solutions.  Provide relevant  
      community health training programs in conjunction with local institutions.


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