Thinking about joining one of our medical mission teams? GREAT!
Medical missions trips are transformational experiences for all involved. Serving others changes the hearts of the servants and those being served but being prepared is ESSENTIAL to making a difference. We’ve compiled this list of things you need to know before going on a medical missions trip to help you make a lasting impact.
Here are 10 things you need to know before going on a medical mission trip:
- Communicating will take more time.
Depending on where you are headed globally, you will most likely be embedded in communities that speak languages that you are not fluent in. This does not mean you have to learn another language before you can join a medical mission trip, but it does mean you need to have is to be aware and to have translators readily available. Patience is also needed because communicating through a translator takes more time than two people fluent in the same language. You will not be able to serve the community well if you cannot communicate effectively with one another. Clear communication is essential to helping people with their health needs
- Be flexible and willing to adapt to unfamiliar conditions.
You are traveling outside of the United States to places that are in need of proper healthcare. Sometimes, other amenities that you are used to will not be available either. In other communities they’re available, but look radically different than what you are used to. You won’t be able to spend every night in a 5 star air conditioned room, familiar food, a hot shower, etc. but that’s part of why these trips are so transformational. Access to clean drinking water may be limited. For example, 60% of Tanzania’s households have water from a protected source as of 2012, so you will most likely have access, but when we travel to remote areas access may be limited.
- Expect limited supplies and access to equipment.
The number of physicians is not the only thing lacking in the under served communities we travel to. Supplies and access to medical equipment can also be quite scarce. We bring as many supplies and medications as possible to supplement what is available locally. As a team member you can find out what equipment and supplies will be available, and count on bringing most of what you need! Specialized dressings, medications, and sutures are often the first supplies gathered. (Remember, if you plan to bring medical equipment, it will require a heavy-duty electrical converter to work outside of the US).
- Loosen your grip on the plan and relax the schedule.
In the United States, medical clinics and hospitals often have rigid schedules, and it’s expected for people to abide by a plan. Other countries are much more go-with-the-flow. Out teams have an agenda and loose schedule, but we are also committed to being flexible and serving people whenever they show up. Things can also be highly unpredictable due to the environment not always being stable or reliable, so one must be flexible with any plans that are made. Leave your rigid, timely mindset in the states and choose to be adaptable.
- Be ready to try new foods!
The type of food you are used to eating will not be accessible on a medical missions trip. It’s important to be grateful and humble when trying new foods. You will like some foods you try and others you won’t. Before going on a medical mission’s trip, branch out and try different foods that are common in the communities you will be visiting. Be prepared to say “yes” to what is offered to you. If you have special dietary needs be sure to talk with your team leader early in the process so that adaptations can be discussed. Staying hydrated and well nourished is going to be crucial to your ability to show up and care for people well. Your patients deserve good care from someone who is reliable and alert.
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- Take time before you leave to preparre your mind, body, and soul.
Medical missions trips take a lot of preparation. You will need to take the time to raise money for the supplies you need and then gather those supplies as well. You will want to do research on the types of health concerns you will likely face as some you may be seeing for the first time. All overseas missions trips also require certain vaccinations before entering the country (go to https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel to find out what vaccinations are required for each country and tips for staying healthy abroad). Traveling overseas also requires getting your passport and other important travel documents which can take several months. Make sure you prepare in advance so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
- Pack everything.
Packing “light” or “minimally” is not the best idea because you may not be able to buy the supplies you need in most places. If you are not sure what to pack for every scenario, check with your team leader. They are experienced travelers who can advise you what to pack and what to leave behind. We wrote an entire post about what to bring. You can read it here!
- Fundraising is essential.
Unless you have been saving up for the trip’s cost, you may need to raise funds ASAP. Cash is good but donations of medical supplies can also make a huge impact. Reaching out to pharmaceutical companies, clinics, hospitals, and local medical related businesses to gather the necessary donations for your trip. This is a great way for family and friends to support you if they’re unable to join you for the trip. You can invite them to securely donate online here. This is one of those rare exceptions where more is more. It’s our goal to take enough supplies that we can leave resources behind for local physicians and clinics. It’s much easier for us to bring the supplies with us than it will ever be to ship things into the country after we leave. Check with your team leader to find out what the specific needs are for your trip!
- Recognize and honor cultural differences without judging.
When heading into uncharted territory, you may find yourself surprised at the differences that surround you. Remember, we are intentionally traveling to under served areas so you will likely see hospitals and clinics in poor condition. Physicians are usually well trained in conditions they see most often but they can be limited by inadequate access to technology, medication, and cutting edge training. Also, health care, dental care, health education, and nutrition education are highly needed, and medical specialists should know that the lack of knowledge in these areas makes it difficult to approach patients in the same way. Read our list of book recommendations here to help you prepare for diverse cultural experience you’re about to have!
- Education is critical to long term health maintenance.
Because of the limited access to medical care, educating our patients is key to helping them stay healthy long term! There will be limited opportunities for costly, time consuming follow-up appointments, so be prepared to educate patients for preventative care and after-care. Allowing time to ask questions and really listening to their concerns will greatly improve their long term prognosis. Your team leader will help you know what is encouraged and what behaviors to avoid.
I hope this list of 10 things you need to know before going on a medical mission trip has inspired you to say “YES” to this opportunity.
I’ve been doing this for over a decade and it’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding.
There are lots of things to learn before, during, and after you serve on a medical mission trip, but don’t let that scare you! It’s still one of the best ways to create major change in the lives of people with little to no access to medical care.
See you in the mission field!
Sheri Postma, RN
Founder & CEO
Mission Partners for Christ