What this physician learned from a medical mission

In August of 1991, I became a family practitioner in the United States Air Force and was sent to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. During my time there, I was asked to go on a medical mission. This experience struck me with the missionary bug to provide my talents and to care for others in another country. With medications that were near expiration date in USAF stock and due to the U.S. departure from the Philippines following the eruptive destruction of Mount Pinatubo at Clark AFB, we went out to a local barangay, village, and cared for the ill. It was an uplifting compassionate experience that started decades of trips to El Salvador, Kenya and Tanzania, Honduras, Uganda, and six more to the Philippines near Tuy, Batangas.

Through all of these experiences, I felt compelled to give of my skills as a medical professional freely. In doing so, I received so much more from the recipients of my compassionate care by their reciprocal appreciation and compassionate smiles. In my willingness to serve others in needed regions of the world I have felt encouraged to labor better with similar medical love in my routine family practice back home in Owensboro, Kentucky. It makes me a more knowledgeable and a compassionate trainer of third and fourth-year medical students from Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine (KYCOM) who come to my clinic for their clinical rotations.

After my numerous experiences, I felt the time was right to provide a rotation for students in a third world country rural medicine rotation. Not only was this a four-week rotation for students it was to be a humanitarian experience allowing students to partake in exchanging their talents and hopefully gain a spirit to be humanitarian again. Possibly this medical mission someday would be part of a new family medicine residency training program at Owensboro. Surely others have done this before, yet this was the first time this enormous task was taken on this Kentucky provider with a dream. Prayer helps, and so does a good resourceful wife who is native to Tuy, Batangas with family in the region.

Humanitarian means serving others with kindness, talents, and compassion to promote human welfare. During this planned February 2017 humanitarian service we were asked to provide medical care and supplies to the Chicago National Filipino Federation American Association (NaFFAA). The students got friends and family to gather over the counter medications and medical supplies together, while my parish community assisted with many medical supplies and financial support. We were asked by Tuy’s medical health center and administrators of the municipality to provide education to the middle school and high school children. They asked for talks on nutrition, hygiene, adolescent matters and a public health service of proper sanitation. We were scheduled to assist the community in a public health initiative of cleaning the city and learning about their sanitation center and how a third world community is striving to make public health better in Tuy. For our participation in their community, we received reciprocal learning from local and Manila hospitals, which opened their doors to show us how they cared for individuals in their communities.

In several cities of Batangas from Tuy, to Balayan to Nasugbu and back to Tuy’s Community Health Center we provided health care to many individuals. Then Aaron Barnes MS IV, and Philip Silva MS IV and I worked on lectures and presented them to children of all ages. Since the children knew English, it was easy to communicate with them. They learned mantras in nutrition to eat a balanced diet with protein every meal, in hygiene to wash their hands to the happy birthday song, and in public health to keep their town clean by reducing, reusing and recycling. The school children showed us their wonderful gardens and the composting they do for fertilizing the gardens. Weeds and garbage in the city ditches were picked up, and we assisted town’s people in cleaning their city and taught the children the importance of doing so to control vectors of diseases. Visits were made to the municipality offices, police station and fire department and then the sanitation site to learn about the city and how we could further help the people of Tuy.

They presented to us their hospitals and their capability of taking care of people in the Batangas region and in Manila. These hospitals were comparable to United States hospitals. Manila Medical Center was starting up a family medicine residency, and we discussed the future of partnering with them in an international experience by communicating and sharing real life experiences in clinical evidence knowledge with evidence-based journal knowledge of our various cultures. We have already started sharing communications via the internet following our very pleasant tour of Manila Med.

By no means was coordinating such a humanitarian medical mission and making it a rural rotational learning experience for students simple. What was I thinking when I got involved in this task. It was time consuming logistically between NaFFAA, the Tuy municipality and KYCOM and costly for transportation, accommodations, and meal planning for four weeks. Plus I was required to have health insurance coverage as well as liability insurance for each member of the team. Yet, would I do it all over again? Yes, without hesitancy! This should be easier the next time. Wait, what am I thinking?

Humanitarian medical missions are not for everyone yet they are stimulating and empowering to those who desire to serve those in one’s practice as well as those in foreign countries. Hopefully, this may lead to a deeper lifelong learning in one’s profession to be knowledgeable of how to serve without our usual available technology from the USA. By building an international partnership in the future, we can learn to become better trainers and trainees in residency programs for all of humanity’s welfare.

Dirck A. Curry is a family physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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