Why are medical mission trips looked down upon by ADCOMs?

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AlfonsTheGuru

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I literally just discovered this 2 minutes ago. Why would this be negative?

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They've become common enough that some people view them as "voluntourism." However, I've been on a number of international humanitarian trips starting when I was 12 years old, and they were extremely influential in shaping the person I am today and my motivations for going into medicine, so I find the voluntourism label a little frustrating and insulting. That being said, my trips have been mentioned positively in all my interviews so far, so apparently it isn't universally considered a bad thing (at least not if you're able to explain convincingly why the trips were important to you).
 
Basically comes across as a luxury "vacation" which is only accessible to people who have the wealth to take international trips
 
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1. They benefit the rich (because poor students can't afford them).
2. There is no guarantee that the student actually learns anything from them (as many of them are tourist trips which merely stop by a clinic once or twice to check some blood pressures).
3. Some of them are unethical (such as allowing students to do sutures).



Despite that, many schools (or adcom members) still look upon them with favor.
 
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Basically the idea is that, at the level of most premeds, all you can do is either basic labor or high level things like actual treatment. The former is something that you'd get a better bang for your buck by just hiring local workers to do the job for you, the latter is stuff that you are most likely unqualified to do and would cast doubt on how responsible you come off as to adcoms.

If you have specialist knowledge of something that is necessary but can only really be communicated directly (usually involving some kind of education, maybe technology) then a mission trip can be a good thing. There are plenty of solid reasons for going on mission trips, medical or not, but they are vastly dominated by students doing the whole "voluntourism" thing so it seems like adcoms are jaded to it in general.
 
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Pre-meds have used it as an excuse to kill two birds with one stone... Go on an exotic vacation, while putting something on your application. Often times the pre-meds might hand out some pills and then spend the rest of the time on the beaches and getting drunk.

If you want to do an exotic vacation, just do it!!! You can do whatever you want on your own terms, and probably visit a cooler place for less money than paying the mission trip organization. Also, if you actually care about these communities, you would do more by going on a regular vacation because you will end up pumping money into the local economy. Don't forget that those hotels hire locals and what not.

Unless you are connected somehow to the community and continue to work with them long-term, it just won't look good at all.
 
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Pre-meds have used it as an excuse to kill two birds with one stone... Go on an exotic vacation, while putting something on your application. Often times the pre-meds might hand out some pills and then spend the rest of the time on the beaches and getting drunk.

If you want to do an exotic vacation, just do it!!! You can do whatever you want on your own terms, and probably visit a cooler place for less money than paying the mission trip organization. Also, if you actually care about these communities, you would do more by going on a regular vacation because you will end up pumping money into the local economy. Don't forget that those hotels hire locals and what not.

Unless you are connected somehow to the community and continue to work with them long-term, it just won't look good at all.
You're absolutely right. One trip to a foreign community would be looked down upon; visits with dedication could actually look good. The only thing I don't like about this matter is how only more wealthy students are able to do this.
1. They benefit the rich (because poor students can't afford them).
2. There is no guarantee that the student actually learns anything from them (as many of them are tourist trips which merely stop by a clinic once or twice to check some blood pressures).
3. Some of them are unethical (such as allowing students to do sutures).



Despite that, many schools (or adcom members) still look upon them with favor.
Why would any ADCOM see these with favor? Because of frequent visiting to the same area?
 
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I think it's one of those things that the adcoms on SDN dislike. While their advice is valuable, not every adcom member at every school feels the exact same way. I know of one adcom member in particular who just looks for shadowing. All he wants is four or five impressive shadowing experiences.

It goes against the SDN dogma, but that's only one guy at one school.
 
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You're absolutely right. One trip to a foreign community would be looked down upon; visits with dedication could actually look good. The only thing I don't like about this matter is how only more wealthy students are able to do this.

Some of these trips cost $3,000 for two weeks abroad. That's a pretty big barrier for poor and middle class students.
 
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Its all about what you make of it and why are you going. If you have an ulterior behind this service and your primary goal is to Pad your EC list. Then I can see a disassociation between your character content and your application, this would be transparent to many adcoms. Just my two cents. This is what I have recently gathered.

I am currently planning a trip this coming summer.
 
To clarify and generalize on this:

Any activity, situation, certification, or event that becomes common by premeds and can done in a "fast and cheap" way (ie, without motivation, commitment and achievement) brings the perception to adcoms that all of them are suspect. For example, prior to the proliferation of postbaccs/SMPs, some applicants would use MPH as stepping stone to medical school. Early 1990s saw a proliferation of applicants trying this so by 2000, MPH was almost valueless in medical school admissions. The last few years, there have many students who try getting an EMT certification without the needed experience in EMS, watering down its value. Now, the last few years, medical missions have popped up in a similar way and lost value to applicants.

Basically, any thing that you do that doesnt have depth and substance, that doesnt show motivation and commitment, can really be looked at as EC filler

Pre-meds are like King Midas, they will ruin anything they touch.

On a side note, I'm patiently waiting to see pre-meds starting non-profits become a worthless activity.
 
I think it just depends on the adcom. I recently interviewed at a school that was very interested in my trips (2 international service trips, and studied abroad at an international hospital). Actually, in both of my 1 hour interviews, we talked about my trips for at least 20 minutes. If you can give the trip meaning, it shouldn't be looked down at.

I disagree that adcom members should look down upon them because some people can't afford them. They shouldn't expect applicants to have those types of experiences, but they certainly shouldn't find them as a negative experience for those people who can afford them.

Overall I don't see how they negatively impact an applicant, assuming their trip had meaning and they didn't overstep their role in an observational experience in terms of medicine. From my experience, I think it is looked at more as a life experience, rather than a clinical experience.
 
Because most people are really going to visit the old country to visit Nana/Abuela/Ajima/Dadi and maybe go say hello to a local doctor, and then try to palm that off as "medical mission".

My clinical colleagues refer to medical missions as "medical tourism".

And missions whose primary purpose is the conversion of others to your belief system fall somewhat flat as a resume builder, even though you have a constitutional right to pursue this activity.

I'm not the only Adcom on these forums who feels this way.

I literally just discovered this 2 minutes ago. Why would this be negative?
 
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Because most people are really going to visit the old country to visit Nana/Abuela/Ajima/Dadi and maybe go say hello to a local doctor, and then try to palm that off as "medical mission".

My clinical colleagues refer to medical missions as "medical tourism".

And missions whose primary purpose is the conversion of others to your belief system fall somewhat flat as a resume builder, even though you have a constitutional right to pursue this activity.

I'm not the only Adcom on these forums who feels this way.

I was originally a pre-med in college for one year (I'm non-trad for those who don't know me). During that year I planned to go to Rio de Janeiro and visit my family there. Three of my cousins are doctors so I was thinking that I would go to the hospital for a little bit and then come home with a golden ticket to medical school and no need to volunteer locally any further.

Oh how misinformed I was! I wouldn't be surprised if people still think this is a golden ticket.

And I ended up going on my trip as a non-pre-med and just chilled and was a tourist. And you know what? It was way more fun than trying to fit in the "mission trip" aspect into it.
 
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Oh how misinformed I was! I wouldn't be surprised if people still think this is a golden ticket.


Given what I've seen, a good 3/4ths think exactly that.
 
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Because if you were really interested in helping people, you would be volunteering locally on an ongoing basis. That's what really impresses. Otherwise, it's just tourism, and you look like someone who is trying to take a short cut..

On the other hand, if you do have lots of local volunteering and clinical exposure, and the trip you're taking has some connection to a program you're involved with here, or if it's an ongoing annual trip through an established group that's known to do good work, and if it appears that this requires hard work, then it might add to your application. Also, a one month or longer trip might help, but one week trip very little. However, in practice, these trips can be helpful in that they give the interviewer something to ask you about, but you need to be prepared to give good answers. Just like for all your other activities, you need to show that you both contributed and got something out of it. If you don't show a commitment, it will hurt more than help.
 
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You're spending money on your own personal travel and living expenses that could have been utilized toward helping others. You don't live there, so why are you butting into their affairs, particularly when you have suffering people right there in your hometown already? This can show more narcissism/ignorance/lack of common sense than selflessness. There is no reason to have to fly 2000 miles to find people with serious illnesses that are in need of medical care. Even if you're looking for working with particular ethnicities, the US is a melting pot - it shouldn't be hard to find somewhere locally that has a high percentage of whatever ethnic group you'd like to work with.
 
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I don't think it demonstrates a commitment to medicine both in the sense of time commitment (I mean people go for a week and then come back all jolly, sure they have raw hours but its not like a year long commitment to volunteering with the underserved in your own city) and an actual commitment to service. It seems like a way to rack up quick hours volunteering and an opportunity to take some pictures and come up with a good essay story about some poor hatian kids that I can use for the personal statement
 
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I don't think it demonstrates a commitment to medicine both in the sense of time commitment (I mean people go for a week and then come back all jolly, sure they have raw hours but its not like a year long commitment to volunteering with the underserved in your own city) and an actual commitment to service. It seems like a way to rack up quick hours volunteering and an opportunity to take some pictures and come up with a good essay story about some poor hatian kids that I can use for the personal statement

Read some essays chosen by top 20 schools. They all seemed to have this kind of component.

"I stared into the tear-filled eyes of the poverty-stricken Malaysian orphan whose life was fleeting as I gingerly held her in my arms...."

Like come. on.
 
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You're spending money on your own personal travel and living expenses that could have been utilized toward helping others. You don't live there, so why are you butting into their affairs, particularly when you have suffering people right there in your hometown already? This can show more narcissism/ignorance/lack of common sense than selflessness. There is no reason to have to fly 2000 miles to find people with serious illnesses that are in need of medical care. Even if you're looking for working with particular ethnicities, the US is a melting pot - it shouldn't be hard to find somewhere locally that has a high percentage of whatever ethnic group you'd like to work with.

And if you care a lot about those people in that specific part of the world, why not cut them a check for the amount this trip would have cost? It would do them more good.

Oh wait a minute, you won't do it? Is it because cutting a check won't help your medical school application? Aha! Now I understand why you're going on this trip.
 
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Volunteering for two weeks abroad is virtually the same as volunteering two weeks in your environment.
(Unless you have certain skills, like a physician, lawyer, engineer, etc - which I assume you do not.)

In so little time you do not have the opportunity to integrate or learn anything about the culture that you wouldn't learn from a book or attending your school's international committee. And as a cherry on the sundae, it's extremely expensive and most profits go to for-profit "voluntourism" companies, not to the local communities. I'd argue that it's detrimental, even, because you steal labor/training for locals who would immensely benefit from it.

I'm extremely glad it's getting recognition for the sham it is.
 
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Would volunteering abroad for a long period of time be looked upon unfavorably as well? I lived overseas for a while and racked up ~1200 hours non-clinical/400 hours clinical the 18 months I lived there.

That doesn't seem like it falls under the same category. We're talking about "trips," not simply living/working/studying while volunteering in another country for an extended period of time. If you were there for a year and a half, you actually lived there, which is something different than hanging out for a few weeks doing unskilled labor and claiming you're a world savior.
 
Also, there are a lot of poor/underprivileged populations throughout the USA that you can volunteer for - some might be just 20 minutes from where you live. Why would you go overseas?
 
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I feel like you don't need to go abroad to work with undeserved populations. There are so many places that need our help here, and if future medical students want to practice in the U.S. then wouldn't it make more sense to be familiar with the current state of many populations domestically? I can't speak for adcoms but it seems as though that would make the most logical sense.
 
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