¡Buen Viaje!: Three Reasons to Serve Overseas If You’re Training in the Medical Field

Now that summer has hit, all of you students heading toward the healthcare field have time to think beyond your textbooks. It’s a big world out there with lots of opportunities. As you map out the rest of the year and look ahead, here are three reasons to consider making an international service trip part of your plans.

1. Be Stretched

Unless you’re one of those special people who just naturally goes with the flow, most of us find being in a new place with strangers, eating strange food and hearing a possibly strange-sounding language a bit s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g. But as we’ve all been told before, getting out of our comfort zones can be a very good thing! In fact, if you are training in the medical profession, getting used to a rubberband life may really help you. After all, healthcare is a constantly changing field. Stretching international experiences can also make for good stories…At least they might be more interesting than that inorganic chemistry course you thought might kill you last semester!

2. Build People Skills

Whether we realize it or not, many medical personnel spend a great deal of each day interacting with people. Patients, patients’ families, and coworkers, not to mention our own families and friends, all come into play. Beyond that, aren’t many of us here because we want to help people? If that’s the case, we need to be good at working with them. While we can read all of the books we can find (and some of them may be helpful), a lot of people-reading skills are built by hands-on experiences and watching how others handle situations. Sure, you may feel more comfortable looking into your microscope, but. hey, if nothing else, realize that doing some things that involve people will look good on your med school applications or resume.

3. Bless Others

Like we said, many of us in medical professions (or heading toward them) are doing what we’re doing because we want to help people. Of course, we strive to do this every day no matter where we are. However, imagine serving people who have limited access to quality care. For example, in 2011 there were 2.45 physicians per 1,000 people in the US while there were 0.47 in Bolivia, 0.36 in Bangladesh, 0.08 in Zimbabwe and (2009) 0.93 in Guatemala[1]. In nations like these, you could be a part of hands-on medical work (a definite plus) and meet a real need. While you may encounter a rare tropical disease or two, in communities around the world, men, women and children struggle with common and treatable yet untreated conditions. Maybe our heads, hearts and hands are supposed to be the ones to help them.

Do you have plans to use your medical skills to serve abroad this summer or later this year? We’d love to hear where you’re headed and what inspired you to buy your ticket! And if Guatemala or its nearby neighbors are on your route, don’t forget to pick up your own copy of Understanding the Guatemalan Patient: A Glossary of Spanish Medical Terms and Folk Medicine and share your feedback with us.

1 CIA The World Factbook  https://www.cia.gov/Library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2226.html (accessed 24 May 2015).