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Preparing for a Medical Mission: A Comprehensive Guide

I’ve decided to participate in a medical mission to Peru this summer. It’s a new experience and I’m not sure what to expect. Preparing for a medical mission requires careful planning and an open mindset. In this blog, I’ll share my preparation and hopefully help guide others who wish to share this experience.

Understand the Mission’s Objectives

Earlier in this series, we explored methods to find the right organization for your trip. I’ll be working with International Medical Relief. It’s important to understand the objectives of the mission. You need to understand the primary healthcare needs of the community. What are the specific diseases or conditions in the area? Knowing the mission’s goals will help with effective preparation. I will be going to the Peru Rainforest. I’ve been advised that I may see a variety of unpredictable issues. However, I should expect dermatological conditions that impact tropical areas. During my time at the Health Department, I became proficient in pediatric and women’s health issues. I began my career in Primary Care and am hopeful that my previous knowledge and experience will serve me well.

Research the Destination

I’ve enjoyed researching Peru. I have little experience with international travel and am really looking forward to experiencing another culture. It’s important to learn about the community and country where you will be serving. This includes understanding the local culture, language, customs and healthcare system. Researching common health issues and prevalent diseases in the area also helps to anticipate possible medical challenges. International Medical Relief provides interpreters for all medical professionals. I studied the Spanish language in high school and have been reviewing the basics. I’m also reviewing medical Spanish to help communication with the clients.

Gather Essential Supplies

Joining an experienced organization is helpful in this matter. International Medical Relief will provide our essential medical supplies. Sometimes, team members are asked to help transport the supplies in their checked baggage. Some needed items may include:

  • Medications: Antibiotics, pain relievers and antiseptics. Due to the high incidence of dermatological conditions, our team was asked to bring topical skin medications such as hydrocortisone, triple antibiotic ointment and anti-fungal cream.
  • Medical Equipment: Most missions require stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs and thermometers. Specialty providers, such as dentists and surgeons may need to bring extra equipment.
  • First Aid Supplies: Needed items include: bandages, gauze, adhesive tape and antiseptic wipes.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Most healthcare professionals require gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizers.
  • Basic Hygiene Supplies: Don’t forget to bring soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene products. You may not be able to get them at your destination.

Prepare Your Documentation

Ensure all your documentation is in order well before departure. This includes:

  • Passport and Visa: Make sure your passport is up to date. Did you know that the expiration of your Passport cannot be less than 6 months from the date of travel? Some locations also require a visa.
  • Medical License: Carry copies of your medical license and any necessary certifications.
  • Immunization Records: Ensure you are up to date with required vaccinations. Check with your local health department for recommendations based on the specific region.
  • Travel Insurance: It’s wise to purchase insurance to cover medical emergencies, evacuations or trip cancellations.
  • Malpractice insurance: Most organizations require medical professionals to have malpractice insurance. My current stateside policy covers volunteerism in various countries (providing there is no active travel ban). However, I was able to purchase a policy specific to this mission that was affordable. I wanted extra security.

Focus on Personal Health and Safety

Your health and safety are paramount during the mission. Take the following precautions:

  • Vaccinations: Consider all the recommended vaccinations based on the region’s health risks. During my time in the Army, I was vaccinated for a variety of things. I was overdue on my Tetanus, so I decided to get one prior to departure. I didn’t want to worry about that in case of a minor injury. There was some discussion of COVID vaccination, beyond the scope of this post. The organization I joined allows non-vaccinated providers but requires a daily COVID test while working in the clinic.
  • Personal Medications: Bring an adequate supply of any personal medications you may need.
  • Health Precautions: Familiarize yourself with health risks in the area, such as malaria or other infectious diseases and take appropriate preventive measures. We’re currently researching anti-malarial recommendations for the rainforest.

Cultural Sensitivity and Communication

Respect for the local culture and effective communication are crucial for building trust and delivering effective care. Consider the following:

  • Learn Basic Phrases: Learning a few basic phrases in the local language can go a long way in building rapport with patients. I’m using the Duo Lingo app to familiarize myself with basic Spanish. I also found a Peruvian restaurant with a very patient waitstaff that allows me to practice my Spanish.
  • Cultural Sensitivity: Be aware of cultural norms and practices. Show respect and empathy toward the community’s beliefs and traditions. However, it’s important not to assume that something you read on the internet will apply to everyone you meet. Most people don’t mind if you respectfully ask about their culture.
  • Collaborate with Local Healthcare Providers: Work closely with local healthcare professionals. They can provide valuable insights and help bridge any cultural or language barriers.

Mental and Emotional Preparation

Medical missions can be emotionally challenging. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the experience:

  • Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that you may not be able to solve all the healthcare issues in the community. Focus on the positive impact you can make.
  • Self-Care: Make sure you get adequate rest, stay hydrated and find moments of relaxation amidst your busy schedule. I was warned that our conditions will be hot and humid. Not only is adequate water intake important but electrolyte replenishment is crucial as well.
  • Debrief and Reflect: After the mission, take time to debrief with your team and reflect on your experiences. This can help you process your emotions and learn from the experience.

Final Thoughts

Preparing for a medical mission requires thorough planning, cultural sensitivity and a commitment to making a difference. At Amethyst Wellness, we are proud to sponsor this mission to Peru to serve this community in need. If you are interested in participating in a medical mission, consider the above guidelines to ensure that you are well prepared to provide compassionate and effective care.

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