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Medicine as Humanitarian Work/Missions

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cjmurph14

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Any students or Docs out there interested in medical missions long-term? Maybe not even long term, but making medical missions a significant part of your practice like practicing in US and going on short term trips throughout career?
I was recently accepted to my state’s MD program and am looking toward specialties that can be leveraged for humanitarian work. Yes, I know, I know, I know that I’ll have preclinical years to worry about first, that I should focus on my basic science classes first, that I won’t have to worry about this for a while, but I just wanted to see if anyone would reach out?
I’ve looked into EM, Gen Surg, even Anesthesia options. If there’s anyone that could provide some insight into what specialty they chose, what life is like in the field for them, what orgs they went with, what I can do to prepare for a career on mission, just let me know. Thanks big time.
 

--Gem

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Only a first year, but I'm somewhat familiar with it through some old mentors and friend is getting doctorate in similar work.

Yes, you can do this long term and even make a career out of it (although don't expect to be paid very well).

FM, IM, EM, peds, Ob/gyn, gen surg, (sometimes psych?), and anesthesia are all the highly sought after specialties for mission work, but I have heard of people like ortho and optho doing 3-6 month trips to Cambodia for religious missions. The only specialties I have a hard time imagining doing this stuff is radiology and pathology.

Popular organizations to make a career out of it would be Doctors without borders, EMERGENCY, The Public Health Service (US gov), Samaritans purse (Christian), CDC/WHO. Many Christian groups, like the Mormon or Catholic church, will do this pro bono/pro deum and you can go for a long time.

I would start researching if your school has anything like a wilderness/disaster medicine club or research. Also begin to look into any summer opportunities your school offers to do medical mission work for your first summer (there is no shortage of trips to South America, Africa, and Asia). Do this fast because sometimes deadlines for applications can be as early as November. Maybe take a look at all the emergency med websites like GEMS, EMRA, ACEP, SAEM for their international health resources.

A lot of these positions in these organizations aren't competitive at all, but they really value having an MPH or some public health experience. EM offers some really dope looking fellowships that might be valuable.
 
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iceclimb12

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This is all observational on my part so take it with a grain of salt. Although I have some experience in the field there are so many needs in different areas that my opinions come only from my experiences.
That said, if you are working relatively independently, it may be of more value to have a broad base of knowledge and to be able to operate within the resources you have available. Thus generalists are typically of more value in very underserved areas and specialists in shorter trips to provide services (I.e. cleft lip/palate repair, eye surgery, dental work, etc.) OR in larger hospitals acting more in a training capacity (which is a huge need internationally). Honestly very similar to observable differences between rural USA and urban USA but possibly with less resources/help, more advanced pathology, and more patients internationally. But all depends on where you go also.

I spent a bit of time in the mission field prior to medical school in Asia and the Middle East. In both places I was literally anything would be valuable, BUT a generalist seemed to be the most versatile. Thus most American physicians I worked with were FM trained but operating at an extremely high level after training at hubs in other mission areas with GS, OB/Gyn, anesthesia, etc. but like I said all of the above would be valuable in their own way, and if they’re comfortable doing some general medical work even better. My thought in school has been FM, GS, EM, IM/Peds, OB/Gyn are the most valuable fields. But FM took the cake for me being a strong mix of outpatient/inpatient medicine in training, having OB training (which varies greatly program to program), having a decent amount of procedural training, and seeming to be the most frequent field I encountered on missions - like a strong foundation.

There is a great film called “The Heart of Nuba” about one such FM doc in South Sudan. Recommend it.

All that said, most of these FM docs are not doing major surgery (the one above excepted, and he for good reasons. There are others of course in similar situations). Many do epidural anesthesia and C-sections, but that’s probably the limit. So if you like surgery then it would be much better to go GS. EM I feel could be of similar utility as FM but possibly in more high acuity areas or disaster relief situations. Anesthesia would be very helpful as long as you have surgeons to work with (I know that’s not all anesthesia does, but that would still be the greatest need). In bigger hospitals OB/Gyn services (especially OB) can be EXTREMELY helpful. Just depends on your interests and where you wanna go.

Long story short, if you wanna be in remote areas providing services long term, I would recommend FM or maybe IM/Peds. If you wanna travel a lot between bigger areas and remote areas or stay in bigger areas, then the above + GS/anesthesia/EM/OBGyn sound good. If you wanna do short term missions or do training/teaching, any specialty would work - with emphasis on services that are hard to come by - Ophtho, NS, Plastics, etc.

If you are interested I can privately share with you info about FM residencies that emphasize this type of work. Also would be happy to provide more specific insight from my own experience privately.
 
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cjmurph14

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This is all observational on my part so take it with a grain of salt. Although I have some experience in the field there are so many needs in different areas that my opinions come only from my experiences.
That said, if you are working relatively independently, it may be of more value to have a broad base of knowledge and to be able to operate within the resources you have available. Thus generalists are typically of more value in very underserved areas and specialists in shorter trips to provide services (I.e. cleft lip/palate repair, eye surgery, dental work, etc.) OR in larger hospitals acting more in a training capacity (which is a huge need internationally). Honestly very similar to observable differences between rural USA and urban USA but possibly with less resources/help, more advanced pathology, and more patients internationally. But all depends on where you go also.

I spent a bit of time in the mission field prior to medical school in Asia and the Middle East. In both places I was literally anything would be valuable, BUT a generalist seemed to be the most versatile. Thus most American physicians I worked with were FM trained but operating at an extremely high level after training at hubs in other mission areas with GS, OB/Gyn, anesthesia, etc. but like I said all of the above would be valuable in their own way, and if they’re comfortable doing some general medical work even better. My thought in school has been FM, GS, EM, IM/Peds, OB/Gyn are the most valuable fields. But FM took the cake for me being a strong mix of outpatient/inpatient medicine in training, having OB training (which varies greatly program to program), having a decent amount of procedural training, and seeming to be the most frequent field I encountered on missions - like a strong foundation.

There is a great film called “The Heart of Nuba” about one such FM doc in South Sudan. Recommend it.

All that said, most of these FM docs are not doing major surgery (the one above excepted, and he for good reasons. There are others of course in similar situations). Many do epidural anesthesia and C-sections, but that’s probably the limit. So if you like surgery then it would be much better to go GS. EM I feel could be of similar utility as FM but possibly in more high acuity areas or disaster relief situations. Anesthesia would be very helpful as long as you have surgeons to work with (I know that’s not all anesthesia does, but that would still be the greatest need). In bigger hospitals OB/Gyn services (especially OB) can be EXTREMELY helpful. Just depends on your interests and where you wanna go.

Long story short, if you wanna be in remote areas providing services long term, I would recommend FM or maybe IM/Peds. If you wanna travel a lot between bigger areas and remote areas or stay in bigger areas, then the above + GS/anesthesia/EM/OBGyn sound good. If you wanna do short term missions or do training/teaching, any specialty would work - with emphasis on services that are hard to come by - Ophtho, NS, Plastics, etc.

If you are interested I can privately share with you info about FM residencies that emphasize this type of work. Also would be happy to provide more specific insight from my own experience privately.
I have heard a lot of echos from others similar to what you’ve said. It’s all on the table right now of course because I’m just starting out. One thing is that I’m not sure that I can convince my wife or necessarily myself to go long-term. I’ve talked with an FM that serves in Africa long term and absolutely loved their scope of practice. I don’t have any exposure to surgery, but I imagine that keeping your own patients stateside and having a significant overseas presence would be taxing. Anesthesia and EM seem the better route as far as that goes right now, but I guess it’ll take some time to see. My school offers an MPH and certificate program in global health so I’ll look into those two and consider taking a trip in the summer.
I’d love to hear your story when you have the time and I’ll check out the film for sure.
 
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