Performing international surgical outreach missions to help the world’s most disadvantaged patients overcome the disability imposed by disease is an extremely rewarding experience. Missions are challenging, varying in their length, level of working and living conditions and the surgery performed. Despite the rigors of mission work, there has not been a mission where members of the medical team did not find the experience to be life changing.
Explore this issue:April 2010
Over the years, people interested in performing humanitarian missions ask many common questions: How do I become involved? How do I get funding? What will be expected of me on a mission? How do I get started? Do they actually help?
I have had the experience of performing humanitarian missions both in the military and in private practive. The most difficult hurdle to overcome is going on the first humanitarian mission. People want to get involved but I have found that it is difficult for us to put down our commitment to our daily practice. My advice to anyone interested in otolaryngology outreach missions is to just jump in. There are many opportunities available for otolaryngologists to perform humanitarian missions. The best place to start is the American Academy of Otolaryngology Humanitarian Web site (entnet.org/Community/public/humanitarian.cfm).
—Drew Horlbeck, MD
Very often I talk with colleagues who say they are worried they have nothing to teach in developing nations. Despite the recent debate regarding the state of health care in the U.S., we still set the standard in quality of care and technological advancements. For this reason, each of us has an opportunity to teach. We have training and experience in the most modern techniques and advances in otolaryngology.
Regardless of the mission, it will require a sacrifice of time and money. There is always an element of self-funding required to make the mission happen. However, I quickly realized the tremendous impact these missions have on the lives of the poorest people in the world. The benefits provided to local colleagues and participants are unparalleled. Personally, for the first time I felt like a doctor rather than a full-time administrator and part-time otolaryngologist.