Medical Mission Work: Costa Rica

Medical Work

What type of Medical Outreach Work do we do on the Medical Spanish Immersion Program?

Providing healthcare during short term medical mission programs requires special attention to detail and a particular mindset to help avoid common pitfalls.

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Much has been written about the dangers and unintended consequences of well meaning medical mission work.  Our medical Spanish immersion programs intentionally focus on sustainability and continuity of culturally appropriate care for the patients we see.  We maintain a model that emphasizes a few key components:

Public health_300x200Words cannot describe the experience. The population we worked with is a more impoverished community with different levels of poverty as you travel through the neighborhood. A lot of the people are immigrants and will do whatever they can to survive. From what I learned, there is not adequate health literacy or awareness simply because they were never taught before. We saw this in some of the reactions from the charla’s that we gave. I was great to see the response we received and all the children’s smiles when they had markers and crafts to play with. While I personally have not worked with a community that impoverished back home, it opens your eyes that people do struggle all over the world. As a knowledge and skilled medical professional I believe it is our duty to serve those who lack resources and health awareness.

-Joel, PharmD

Preparation: Preparation for the medical work we do is essential and multifaceted.  Our medical volunteers research the communities we’ll be working in to understand the health risks, access to care, and how North American standards of care differ from realistic solutions to a given health problem in these communities.  Equally important to understanding the setting and limitations of a community is improving one’s own communication skills.  Our volunteers and students actively work on their medical Spanish skills before traveling  with us.

Integration: Providing medical care apart from an existing year-round structure for delivering health services to a given population is irresponsible at best; in many cases it proves dangerous to the patients you are hoping to help.  If we provide clinical care on a given program, Common Ground’s medical volunteers are always integrated into an existing structure for providing healthcare.

Evaluation: Preparation and integration are are essentials to a quality medical mission program, but they don’t ensure perfect execution.  We are constantly fine-tuning our medical mission work to be most effective in delivering healthcare in a responsible and sustainable way.  Medical volunteers document the work and care they’ve provided, and provide suggestions for continued work within a community.  And our program directors are in constant communication with the various organizations with whom we integrate care for improving outcomes in the future.

Our model for medical mission work provides a framework for everything that we do in our target communities.  While on the program with us, you can expect to be providing tons of education, and very little clinical work (if any). Here are the sorts of activities we participate in on a regular basis:

  • Preventive health education: teaching about all categories of healthy living in resource poor environments
  • Healthy relationships: addressing topics like respect, non-violent communication, self – esteem, effective parenting, etc in culturally and situationally relevant terms
  • Addictions: working in rehab facilities educating residents on the physiological, relational, and emotional effects of drugs & alcohol on the individual and their families
  • Home visits: accompanying the local outreach workers in small communities on home visits intended to provide screenings, follow-up, and general health education to community members
  • Senior center visits: spending a morning or two with a local senior center talking with community members about how to stay healthy and prevent injuries as they age

We categorize all of the above activities as “medical outreach work” because, while we’re not usually involved in clinical care, we make an intentional effort to improve the quality of life of the individuals and communities that we work with. 

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