Something a lot of pre-PA or pre-Med students do is go on Medical Mission trips. So many in fact, that is actually becomes a recommendation NOT to talk about this during your personal statement when applying – because you want to make sure you stand out compared to others. Medical mission trips can be wonderful, life-changing experiences, but they can also fall flat. Here are some of my tips on how to make the most out of your medical mission trip.
I had the opportunity my 2nd year of undergrad to go on a Medical Mission trip to La Antigua, Guatemala. It was an incredible, life-changing trip, and definitely made the fire of my desire to be involved in medicine burn so much brighter. I spent a week traveling to different small villages surrounding La Antigua (a larger community), visiting indigenous people and helping to provide them with a free clinic. My group and I listened to their heart and lungs, preformed glucose sticks, passed out vitamins, educated children on the importance of dental hygiene by putting on a play, helped a doctor diagnosis and treat small conditions, and just got to know the individuals we were helping. The rest of the day we spent in a Spanish class or exploring the area.
So how do you find a Medical Mission trip? Well, most schools have different clubs on campus that organize trips each year for their members. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 groups from my undergrad that go to different places. Additionally, there are larger groups across the nation that do trips or internships around the world.
Thing is, not every Medicial Mission trip is created equal, and not every trip is going to be as medically oriented as you would hope. It’s so important that you do your research on the group that you’re planning on going with, and talk to past participants on their thoughts on the trip. Before you make the decision to go on a trip, make sure its going to be worth the money and give you the experience that you want. Only getting to experience one or two days of medically stuff out of the entire week may not be worth it. Some programs also won’t integrate you into the culture as much, and in my opinion, this was one of the best aspects of my trips. Living the way that these populations live is what made me realize just how lucky I was, and really helped my ability to empathize with people who are different than I am.
Once you picked a trip, there are some things that I recommend doing to be prepared to get the most out of your experience. Research the place that you’re going – get some information on the people and the customs. Make sure you dress appropriately! If the people there don’t show a lot of skin, make sure you follow that unspoken rule. It’s going to make them feel more comfortable with you. Learn about the healthcare that they have on a regular basis. If these people have never seen a provider before, you want to know that. It’s going to change some of the things that you do over there, and it’s going to effect what you see. Practice using your stethoscope, taking a blood pressure, and getting a history. These are basics that you’re going to be doing over and over again. If you don’t speak the language – don’t stress too much! I didn’t speak Spanish very well at the time, so before hand I brushed up on some basics for conversation and some medical Spanish (like how to say “take a deep breath”). Unless you’re completely fluent, a lot of what you’ll be doing is using your body language to explain things. Or, there might be an interpretor in your group, but most of the times these indivuals are going to stay with the licensed professionals who are providing more in-depth care. Bring small items for the people! These can be vitamins, bandaids, or small gifts (I had a friend who made friendship bracelets and would give them out to children). Keep an open mind; this experience is going to be nothing like anything your ever done before. Go in wanting to learn about the people, and stay approachable. Laugh, smile, and have fun.
Realize that you might not get a ton of medical experience or knowledge from one of these trips, but that the real education is going to come from experiencing a different culture and their approach to healthcare. Having this experience is going to make you into a more well-rounded, approachable provider. Racism and stereotyping are still huge in so many aspects of medicine, and to combat this, we need to make sure that as providers we practice with empathy and understanding. Seeing different cultures from the inside is going to help us perfect this.
Comment below on your thoughts about Medical Mission trips and what you think are some important considerations to ensure that you make the most of the experience! Or, feel free to share where you went and your thoughts on your time there.
Feel free to subscribe to the blog to get updates on my posts, which include Pre-PA advice, tips for making it through school, and fun lifestyle posts. Or you can follow my social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) for a better look into the daily life of a PA student