International Healthcare Experience


Who doesn't love to travel??  International healthcare trips can give you the opportunity to both travel and get the HCE that you need for PA school.  I think if you have the opportunity (aka - time and financial means) to get some experience abroad you should go for it!  These trips give you a cultural outlook on healthcare and the chance to see conditions that you might not encounter frequently in the United States.  Many times the medications and treatment options are more limited when you are in the field, which means you learn more about specific treatments and what they are useful for.  These trips can be a way to get a lot of hours as well.  If you're doing clinic for 10 hours a day for 5 days, that's going to get you 50 hours in 1 week!  It also gives you awesome subject matter for your interviews.  And amazing views like below (La Romana, Dominican Republic).



There are some cautions you should take before deciding to go on an international healthcare trip.  You do want to choose an area where you will be safe, and you want to travel with a group that is well-established.  These trips can be quite expensive, and you don't want to waste your time or money.  While on a trip, you also want to be cautious to only practice to a level you feel comfortable.  Sometimes countries have standards that are slightly different, and although you are learning, I would recommend not doing anything that you shouldn't be doing as a student or have no training to do, basically anything you wouldn't do in the States.  I've heard of people actually getting turned away from medical programs because they mentioned doing procedures during interviews that they probably should not have been doing (circumcisions, tooth extractions, etc.) and that was considered unethical.



Sometimes your bus might get stuck in a ditch on the way to clinic ^^^, and then all you can see for miles are fields (see below).


Financially, international trips can be expensive between the trip cost, flights, and spending money.  You could always work to raise this money, ask for funds as Christmas or birthday presents from family and friends, or even try a Kickstarter or FundMe.  Many people questions why you would spend thousands of dollars when there are plenty of people to help here in America.  Well, after one trip you'll be hooked.  It's so worth it to see how appreciative the patients are and how much it means to them that you would travel so far to help them.  It also opens your eyes to the needs of others in a whole new way when you are seeing people who don't have all of the material items and distractions that we have daily.  My biggest take home point was that no matter where you live or what you have, we all have the same healthcare issues.  It's very unifying.

The biggest thing to know and prepare for before you go on a trip is to BE FLEXIBLE!  After being on a few different mission trips, I have learned that it is rare for everything to go perfectly, and it's a lot easier if you accept that before you go.  As part of my internal medicine rotation, I was able to go for a week to the Dominican Republic on a trip with a few of the medical students at MCG (including my husband).  We had sent money ahead of time so they would have supplies and medications for us to use during clinic, but when we got there, we had nothing!  How were we supposed to hold clinics with no medications?  By the grace of God, another team at our base had miraculously ended up with over twice as many supplies as they needed and they were so kind to share with us.  Everything worked out!  But it was a little dicey for a little while there.



So the majority of these trips operate in similar ways.  You have a home base in whatever country you are going to, and from there you go to different areas to set up clinics each day. At these clinics, patients show up and wait to see a provider.  Sometimes there may be stations for vaccines or de-worming of children.  There can be hundreds of patients in a clinic during one day, but other days may be much slower.  At one of our sites, all of the men were out in the fields, so we only saw women, children, and the elderly.  There's usually a "free day" as well where you get to explore or do something fun.


This picture is of the first time I ever tried lobster, which was amazingly fresh and delicious, and on the beach seen in the title pic.    This was on our day off in the DR and we took a boat trip all around different islands and had a surf and turf BBQ on the beach.  Lots of sunburns, but totally worth it.

Here are some of the reputable organizations I'm aware of, but there are tons out there!

Rahab's Rope - This is a group out of Athens, GA that focuses on getting women out of sex trafficking in India.  They do 1-2 medically based trips a year.  The founder of this organization spoke to a group I was in while I was in college at UGA and I was just so impressed by their mission and the work they have done so far.  It's one of my goals to go on a trip with them at some point.

Flying Doctors of America - This is an organization that takes trips all over the world!  One of the leader's daughters was in my PA class so he came to speak to us and explain a little about what they do.  The trips seem to be very well organized, and they work hard to make sure the accommodations are safe and comfortable.

Rivers of the World - This is the group that my trip to the Dominican Republic was organized through, and even though we had some bumps in the road, I would still recommend it!  The leaders know what they're doing and the sites are very well established.

And if you aren't able to go on a trip before you start school, there's the chance you can go during rotations!  If this is something you might be interested, be sure to ask the schools you are looking at.  People from my class went to Peru, and the most recent classes have been going to Uganda!  You also want to ask and make sure that these hours will be accepted as direct patient-care experience.

Where have you been on mission trips and what are your tips?