I have found that many physicians have a strong desire to serve, yet often don’t know where to begin or if it is the right move for them both personally and professionally. I believe that by answering a few simple questions, a physician can decide if a mission is right for them.
1. Decide where you want to help. Hailing from Africa, I wanted to return to the poorest regions such as Uganda, Nigeria, and Guyana to serve. I encourage physicians to select an area of the world they are personally connected to as I did. Serving a mission is an excellent way to see what life is really like in a new country.
2. Research a reputable group to serve with. Physicians should research local or national organizations serving in an area of interest to them. Talk to others who have worked with those organizations, and find out when each will be hosting the next mission, making sure it fits in with your schedule. All of this planning will help you determine the best fit for you.
3. Determine how you want to serve. There are many duties on a mission. First-timers should examine their personal skillset, interests, and desire to learn so that they can be as helpful as possible to the greater group. Many groups even allow physicians to bring family with them to serve in non-medical capacities. This is something I have encouraged on the missions I have led; my own son often accompanies me, and he enjoys helping.
4. Pursue your mission while continuing to work. Medical missions require time and money, so physicians need to consider how a mission will fit it into their work schedules and how they will cover expenses. I found that working as a locum tenens physician, one who temporarily fulfills the duties of another, was the best option for me to continue working while also serving. I was able to make my own schedule, which allowed me to work every season except the summer when I executed my missions. It also provided me with the supplemental income needed to fund trips.
5. Look inward. Deciding to serve a medical mission is a personal choice. A physician must have an altruistic concern for human welfare, hands-on approach to medicine, and ability to work under hard conditions. As medical professionals, I believe we all have this in us. Serving a medical mission is extremely rewarding and is an activity that stays with you for a lifetime.
After so many years leading missions, last year I was able to create the Foundation for Combined African Medical Missions, which grows the next generation of medical philanthropists through these summer medical mission trips to Africa. I encourage all medical professionals to consider serving missions.
Olabisi Jagun works as a locum tenens physician with CompHealth.