Including med mission trips on apps without looking like a voluntourist?

habenula45

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Going on two of these when I was naive and thought I could make a difference, I learned how pointless they are unless you go with the purpose to educate people rather than providing medical care, especially when you are not trained. I look at them as voluntourism/white savior complex trips.

How do you mention these on apps without sounding like an idiot to adcoms? Basically, I made an expensive mistake but learned from it? I spent way too much money, although I did learn a lot (not necessarily good things) about other countries health care, and the role that we realistically can play serving in other countries, especially short term, I found ethical boundaries that my classmates decided to cross (eg we never learned how to suture, so doing it here is the perfect opportunity to learn/practice, which to me was totally unethical but they didn't see it that way).

I don't know if I should mention these trips because it makes me look like a voluntourist, but at the same time they were valuable...
 

aldol16

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You probably shouldn't mention any ethics violations because that just reflects very poorly on yourself. If you have to mention them, you should focus on the positive contributions you made in terms of real effects (e.g. "I built toilets") and avoid any grandiose verbiage (e.g. "I wanted to completely change their standard of living in the two weeks I was there").
 
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thatwouldbeanarchy

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Personally, I think it's fine (and possibly a positive thing) to acknowledge ways in which these types of projects are unsustainable. You don't need to apologize to adcoms for taking part in them. You can talk about what you learned from the experience, anything you were able to accomplish during your trip, and still show thoughtfulness about the political/social ramifications of brief aid trips.
 

Crayola227

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I think the negative of these programs are overstated

I think if you do these trips primarily for language experience that helps make a decent case

otherwise, focus on what you got out of the trip

the program I was in is generally well regarded, and was led by local physicians
part of what we did was outreach, we taught people about boiling their water to prevent the transmission of parasites and other illnesses
I think that actually can make some lasting change
we followed an agenda that was set by local physicians, so I hardly see the harm in that

some of these trips if they include a homestay do at least provide a means of support for those individuals
as long as you're not doing anything unethical I don't see the big deal

Costa Rica has become one of the most stable and prosperous countries in Central America due to tourism
Tourism is also one of the biggest driving forces in rain forest preservation, for example, in Costa Rica and Ecuador
What's even better, is that these governments are using tourism dollars and reinvesting in their ecnonomy to make them less reliant on such dollars

so, if you can make some of the points I just did about your own involvement, then I see nothing wrong with it

people really need to get off their high horse about some of these programs
 

JustaDO

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Do what you want, but if I was on the committee, I would ask you why not focus at home, before focusing on the world?

Basically, I made an expensive mistake but learned from it...I spent way too much money
Or, why spend $$$ to fly when you could have donated it here?
 
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Crayola227

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Do what you want, but if I was on the committee, I would ask you why not focus at home, before focusing on the world?



Or, why spend $$$ to fly when you could have donated it here?
Because part of the trip was a desire to be immersed in a foreign culture, but in a way that is deeper than what one can get from just a tourist trip.

Because some people have an interest in global health, not just what is here at home. This sort of thinking, being aware of health in other countries matters also to the population here, and is becoming even more important with the recent crisis with Ebola, and now with Zika. Even if one doesn't go on to be a travel doc, because our patients travel, as a profession the individual doc needs to have some familiarity with the health systems and prevalent diseases in other countries. Diseases don't care about borders.

In my case, it was also for language immersion. No one can argue that an important aspect of 2nd language acquisition is immersion in cultures where it is native. Also, using such skills in a medical setting is relevant to using it in medical settings in the states. However, for an undergrad, such opportunities may be limited in the states. It is easier to work on language skills and spend time abroad in this manner than to try to gain this experience and learning later in medical education.

Also, my time in abroad has helped me to be more aware of global politics and alternative forms of healthcare delivery. Some of the perspective I gained in this regard was only to be acquired abroad, and as more than a tourist. The exchanges I had directly with doctors who are native to those areas gave me perspective that I can apply here in a way I'm not sure could have acquired otherwise.

Also, it was informative to actually watch the dispensing of care in another culture. Essentially, to watch how doctors in a system outside the US allocate resources, how they think, how they deliver. It was also enlightening to see different beliefs and attitudes in patients and to compare to attitudes here.

Some things only become obvious by comparison. For example, one can learn not to take for granted that in the US, for the most part, private homes don't have bars over the windows. These sorts of insights can further drive appreciation of socioeconomic determinants of well being and health.
 

Crayola227

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People are all too eager to suck up the rhetoric against this sort of cross cultural exchange when in fact they often know little of it.

People with interest in global health and language acquisition, I think, are better able to articulate the values of such experiences as I have here.
 

JustaDO

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Let me make this clear, I personally don't care whether OP did or didn't went overseas, but a prepared applicant is a strong applicant. That being said, I'll play ball.

Because part of the trip was a desire to be immersed in a foreign culture, but in a way that is deeper than what one can get from just a tourist trip.
I'm not sure how deep it is to choose to pay $$$ to travel to see desolate people suffering then it is to use that very same money and buy them basic goods/needs. Consider Warren Buffett, he could volunteer and build a house with Habitats for Humanity which may benefit a family of 4. Or, he could donate $1 million to build numerous houses. Which one benefits more people?

Even if one doesn't go on to be a travel doc, because our patients travel, as a profession the individual doc needs to have some familiarity with the health systems and prevalent diseases in other countries. Diseases don't care about borders.
Google?

In my case, it was also for language immersion. No one can argue that an important aspect of 2nd language acquisition is immersion in cultures where it is native. Also, using such skills in a medical setting is relevant to using it in medical settings in the states. However, for an undergrad, such opportunities may be limited in the states. It is easier to work on language skills and spend time abroad in this manner than to try to gain this experience and learning later in medical education.
So its easier to find a location, pay/hop on a plane, find room & board in another country, find food/transportation, take pictures for Facebook of the struggles, then it is to take medical Spanish and use it at a free clinic? I see.

Also, my time in abroad has helped me to be more aware of global politics and alternative forms of healthcare delivery. Some of the perspective I gained in this regard was only to be acquired abroad, and as more than a tourist. The exchanges I had directly with doctors who are native to those areas gave me perspective that I can apply here in a way I'm not sure could have acquired otherwise.
Google? Tell me how their perspective actually changes how you deliver medicine in a substantial way in the USA.

Also, it was informative to actually watch the dispensing of care in another culture. Essentially, to watch how doctors in a system outside the US allocate resources, how they think, how they deliver. It was also enlightening to see different beliefs and attitudes in patients and to compare to attitudes here.
It took me ~2 minutes to do this from my apartment.

For example, one can learn not to take for granted that in the US, for the most part, private homes don't have bars over the windows.
See any intercity clinic / neighborhood in the US.

People are all too eager to suck up the rhetoric against this sort of cross cultural exchange when in fact they often know little of it.
There's no rhetoric here. You spent thousands of dollars to go overseas to help people, when you could have done it for free here, and donate that same amount to the people overseas which would have done far more good then you playing physician.

Alot of what you stated is how it helped you learn about culture, healthcare delivery, language etc. Silly me thought all along it was about helping them.
 
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DingoPingo

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Alot of what you stated is how it helped you learn about culture, healthcare delivery, language etc. Silly me thought all along it was about helping them.
The first step to being able to help others is to begin by helping yourself. When helping yourself means helping others, that's when you know you've found enlightenment.

I personally don't think there is a problem with volunteering abroad. It's an honorable act that shows dedication. I don't believe in such a thing as "white savior complex." If everyone privileged had a "white savior complex" and donated money abroad we wouldn't have so many problems around the world.

I'd rather see someone spend money to go to Central America to educate the people there or even just to educate themselves than sit at home and eat cake.
 
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JustaDO

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The first step to being able to help others is to begin by helping yourself. When helping yourself means helping others, that's when you know you've found enlightenment.
The only thing I know is Hallmark has certainly found its next holiday card since I don't recall searching for enlightenment.
 

Crayola227

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Alot of what you stated is how it helped you learn about culture, healthcare delivery, language etc. Silly me thought all along it was about helping them.
Sure, a lot of it is about what one gets out of the experience.

Why does it have to be one-sided to have any altruism associated with it?

Deeper than a tourist trip - homestays, silly.

You think that the support of ~10 different elderly families in another country through one program I can think of, doesn't matter?

You think it's a numbers game, that housing 40 people from a Hab 4 Human project is intrinsically more worthy than some of the individual examples I mention below?

Newsflash: as a physician we frequently have most of our impact occur on the person to person level, and not at some grand Public Health level. Sure when I took care of some dude with TB and contacted the State Health Dept, or giving out flu vaccines, etc, that's probably pretty significant for the Public Health, but tell me, what great public health agenda did I further when I convinced a 60 year old Vet to pursue stents for his stones rather than choose to progress to renal failure with a grand plan to refuse dialysis, ie go down the path of death? His wife was grateful. Maybe none of that matters. So maybe if I go and do similar good abroad, none of that matters either.

So you think that when one of my colleagues caught on that one of the kids was covered in suspicious bruises and figured out the kid was being physically and sexually abused, which had not come to the attention of the local nurse/teachers, that had no value? I think US training that we receive that teaches us to look for signs of abuse was at work. Not saying that that training didn't exist where we were working, but like I said, any value to the right person being in the right place, right time?

Or when I diagnosed a kid with phimosis and a UTI, no value?

The school where this took place had a school nurse, that only came by once every 3 or 4 months. They relied on the notes we made, wtih subjective, vitals/PE, to help guide follow up for these kids. In the interim, our involvement at that school helped teachers identify kids that needed health care sooner than that. This is a country with a single payer system, so kids can get care, but you have to identify who needs it, and talking with the teachers you discover they need help/input from someone with is able to take the time to talk to each individual child about health related stuff that a pre-med (or med student) is able to do. This in turn helps them know which parents to talk to, which kids need to stay home, until they are seen by a PCP.

But sure, declare that all these places need is more money and Habitat for Humanity.

If you think you're going to learn to use Spanish just as well from a class and volunteering in a free clinic as you would supplementing that in a 4 week homestay with 4 hours daily instruction and 4 hours clinic time, you don't really understand language acquisition.

Google isn't going to teach you about some of the issues going on in some countries. Newsflash: use of internet and publishing of some relevant public health info isn't universal in developing countries.
 

Crayola227

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It's not hard to understand.

These trips have value for the students who go on them, and for the locals who are running them.

Entire swaths of the rain forest in a few countries in South America have been preserved - just because of the tourism there. This includes land where indigenous tribes live and try to preserve ancient customs.

I think preservation of the rain forest and other cultural practices has values FOR US ALL. I believe in the adaptive value for humankind that preservation of cultural diversity provides.

Included in my trip was a side opportunity (I didn't take part in it) that acts to integrate local beliefs with more Western views of medicine. Call me crazy, but being able to expose people to Western medical therapies that are efficacious I think can have lasting value for that community. In addition to diagnosis by harispucation, they could also receive POC glucose checks for DM. By respecting their beliefs one was able to introduce others that may be helpful to that community. Word of mouth can spread, and before you know it you have a clinic that is reaching people who otherwise would have been solely reliant on less effective care (I'm taking for granted that diagnosis by animal entrails supplemented with a glucometer is more effective than harispucation alone).

I see nothing wrong with the leaders of these communities reaching out to volunteers to assist in their efforts while affording these volunteers unique experiences.

As I said, some of these places need more than dollars. Some actually appreciate the labor coming through, like in your example of Habitat for Humanity.