My Mission is a Medical Mission

August 22nd, 2011

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By , BSN, RN

Each year for the past four years I have been a member of a medical mission team delivering health care to people in the Dominican Republic. When folks find out I do this project, the response is usually the same, "oh, that's so giving of you," or, "wow, I want to do something like that — you know, give back." I always smile and say thank you and then I try to explain. Going on medical missions is the most selfish thing I do, every year. I won't lie. I love helping people with the skills I have. I love being part of a team on an adventure. But to tell the truth, the best part is how good I feel when I get back home.

It's not a feeling of "I'm glad to be back in my house, with my cats, enjoying my air conditioning and my urban lifestyle." It's the feeling of being part of a world bigger than my own. It is the pleasure of the camaraderie with others in my mission group as we work with the local health care providers. It is the astonishment, every year, at the patience and determination of our clients as they wait for hours in line to see us, to receive care not available to them due to distance or money or lack of providers. It is the hugs of the old women, the handshakes and the pats on the backs of the working men, and grins of the kids when we put glasses on them and all of a sudden they can see.

The group I currently am a member of is secular and has organized visits to the Dominican Republic for almost 30 years. There is always a surgical team (this year we will have a general surgeon and an orthopaedist) and a family practice clinic, plus any other services that can be provided by any other health care professionals who come as volunteers. For several years we have had an ophthalmologist who has been part of the team running an eye clinic, for example. We do eye exams, treat medical problems and provide surgical services as necessary.

We are six weeks out from leaving on our next trip, and the work for this year really starts now. Across the country, the members of MMM are inventorying supplies and medications, putting together surgical packs, collecting everything from toothbrushes and toothpaste to suture and gloves. Everything we use during our week at the hospital we must bring with us.

Find a Mission

I think every health care professional should volunteer for at least one mission trip. There are so many to choose from worldwide. There are giant, well-funded groups like Operation Smile and Doctors without Borders, there are church groups who have long established relationships with churches in other countries and there are small groups like my own, who just go and do and then come home to start getting ready for the next year. No matter what program or where you choose to help, your efforts will be appreciated, your skills as a nurse are never underestimated and the people you serve truly need your services.

Even with all the hard work, being on a medical mission is just plain fun. You are traveling with a group of like-minded people to someplace you might never see if you don't leave the beaten path. The camaraderie is everything. The work is everything. And the free time is whatever you want it to be — an adventure in the jungle, lying on a beach, helping build a school, visit a museum or a private home and learn about a culture from the inside.

So, I have preached. Every year as soon as the laundry is done from my previous trip, I start thinking about the next. And I feel good. I feel lucky. I feel blessed. Over the next weeks I will tell you a little more about my group, and with any luck and decent Internet service I will post from this year's trip. I hope to share with all of you what an adventure medical mission work really is.

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