How medical missions inspire, treat, and change people's lives
Working in healthcare can be a physically and emotionally draining profession. We all have tough days that force you to wonder if your job is really worth continuing. I think about whether I have indeed changed anything in anyone's life, or even made any impact in this profession. I inevitably start sorting through in my mind the days past and wonder, “was there any time in my life when I could be sure I changed someone’s life for the better?”
This question, of course, is impossible to answer. In my opinion, gauging one’s success in “changing lives” is a futile and self-serving exercise. But when I think about moments in life that were most meaningful to me, I fondly think back to the days working with medical missions and the life altering lessons learned. I think about the healing and inspiration I received while watching my mentors attempting to do the same for others.
If you have ever met or have had the privilege of knowing someone working for a medical mission, you would probably agree when I say these men and women are a special breed. All of these individuals work tirelessly in other jobs and like most people, have a chaotic schedule in their personal lives. And yet many of these providers, instead of taking a vacation from this work, utilize their free time to continue their service abroad. So why would they fly halfway across the globe to work long hours in unfamiliar environments and immerse themselves in cultures that are dramatically different than ours?
When I ask this question to the people I have worked with, I understandably receive a variety of answers. Some feel it’s just the right thing to do. Others say that they feel like they’re actually doing something good for a change. What I have observed though, is that when providers go abroad to treat patients in this unfamiliar environment, they return with more energy and enthusiasm for the profession than they had before. Through this process of treating, healing and changing the lives of those around them, they themselves become inspired to continue their work at home and become changed as well.
When volunteers head off to these countries, our providers bring a different kind of service to healthcare in the regions they visit. On the surface it may seem as though these missions only provide a skill set and medication that a region may be lacking, but these missions also provide education and medical perspective to local individuals so that the healing process may continue long after the mission is over. In return, these providers earn precious knowledge of local culture and gain new perspective of lives in a region. It is this enriching give-and-take of ideas that are so meaningful. Patients come to realize that there are people in this world that do care and want to understand their struggles. By witnessing their patients’ resilience in the face of declining health, providers find renewed inspiration. Cynicism and self doubt melt away and are instead replaced with an increased dedication to the craft.
Recently an elderly patient tugged gently at my white coat, pulled me closer to her bed and whispered into my ear, “when you change someone’s life for the better, you change yours too.” I think of all of the people I’ve met over the years working with medical missions. These missions are not just about changing other people’s lives. It’s also about changing ours too.
Posted by Han Lee, M.D.
Dr. Han Lee, M.D. is a neurologist and movement disorder specialist. He has trained at UCSF, Harbor-UCLA, UCLA and USC. After completing his neurology residency at Harbor-UCLA/UCLA, he has completed two fellowships in Neurophysiology and Movement Disorders. He is interested in Parkinson’s Disease and Deep Brain Stimulation research.
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